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Foot cellulitis: More than just an ordinary skin infection

Christine Cristiano hangs her hat in Ontario, Canada. She shares her world with husband, two sons and a beagle named Tessie.

keep your feet healthy

Although most people don't realize it, but a simple cut, mosquito bite or case of athlete's foot can lead to a an infection of the foot called cellulitis. Foot cellulitis may sound harmless but this bacterial infection of the connective tissues of the skin can lead to flesh eating disease if not properly treated. Here is what you need to know to protect your feet from cellulitis.

Woman's Foot

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis can affect any area of the body but is usually seen in the face, arms, legs and feet. It can be caused by one of three different types of bacteria that have found its way into the body: group AB-hemolytic streptococcus, Streptococcus pneumoniae or Staphylococcus aureus. These types of bacteria can be found on the skin's surface and normally don't cause any problems. However, they can create havoc if they get into the skin through an open wound. Take note that individuals with a compromised immune system from diabetes, cancer and those suffering from AIDS are more susceptible to cellulitis.

How do you know if you have cellulitis?

The appearance of cellulitis may not be apparent at first, and is easily mistaken for a simple skin abrasion or irritation. The most common symptom is redness and swelling of the infected area but as the infection invades the tissue, the skin will be become hot to the touch, can be very itchy, may blister, and start to take on a purplish color. These symptoms may be accompanied by fever, headache, chills, weakness and fatigue. Red streaks may spread out from the original site — an indication that the infection is invading more tissue. Cellulitis can develop quite rapidly over a few days, and turn into a severe infection and invade the blood stream if not treated promptly. Unfortunately, the condition can be further complicated if the bacteria is antibiotic resistant and surgery, loss of a limb or even death is a possibility.

Treatment for cellulitis

Depending on the severity of the cellulitis, oral antibiotics are the first plan of defense against the infection. If the infection doesn't abate, intravenous antibiotics are recommended over a course of a few days or, in the worst case, weeks. The intravenous antibiotics are administered through an intravenous pump that is scheduled to release the antibiotics at specific intervals round the clock. The intravenous pump can be maintained on an in-patient, out-patient or home health care arrangement for the duration of the treatment. It is imperative that the affected limb be elevated to reduce the amount of swelling from the infection. Soaking the area in salt water or applying warm compresses will also help with the infection and reduce the pain and discomfort.

Prevention is the best medicine

The best way to prevent cellulitis is to reduce your chances of contracting it in the first place. Make sure that any open wounds, abrasions or insect bites are cleaned promptly and treated with and over-the-counter antibiotic cream. The foot is a common sight for cellulitis so make sure you practice good foot hygiene and monitor and treat any wounds, insects and foot fungus promptly. Be diligent in treating athlete's foot because this common foot ailment can be breeding ground for cellulitis due to the tiny skin breaks that occur between the toes. If a wound does not respond to conventional OTC treatments, and redness and swelling occur, seek medical treatment promptly. Early diagnosis can prevent the infection from spreading and may reduce the quantity of antibiotics needed to treat it.

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