| Risk Factors
Erysipelas is an infection of the upper layers of the skin.
Erysipelas is caused by specific bacteria. In most cases, it is caused by Group A streptococci. These bacteria normally live on the skin or come from sources outside of the body. It can enter the skin through a cut or injury to the skin. Once inside the skin, the bacteria can grow and spreads into the surrounding skin.
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The most common factors that increase the chance of erysipelas:
- Infancy or older age, though any age group can be affected
- IV drug use
Any damage to the skin, such as a cut, scratch, blister, burn, puncture, ulcer, or bite can increase the risk of erysipelas. Skin damage may also be caused by certain skin conditions such as:
The risk of skin infection can also be increased by conditions that cause pooling of blood or fluids in the skin such as:
Erysipelas can occur on skin anywhere but most often affects the face, arms, or legs.
Symptoms may include:
- Skin that is warm, red, firm, and swollen
- Pain or tenderness
- Swollen glands or lymph nodes
- Fever or chills
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor can diagnose erysipelas based on the appearance of the skin.
Further testing may be done if the infection does not respond to treatment as expected, for certain infection source, or if there is a compromised immune system. Information about the infectious agent and the body’s response can be found through:
- Blood tests
- Skin biopsy—a sample of the affected area is removed and examined under a microscope
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infection. The medication may be delivered by IV or by pills or liquids by mouth.
To help reduce your chance of erysipelas:
- Keep your skin clean.
- Moisturize dry skin with lotion.
- Avoid injury to the skin:
- Wear protective gear in sports.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when hiking.
- Wear sandals when at the beach, rather than going barefoot.
- Be careful around animals. Treat pets with respect to avoid bites.
- Do not swim in natural waters if you have cuts or sores.
- Try not to cut yourself during fishing or other water sports.
- If a small cut, bite, or other injury occurs, carefully treat the wound:
- Clean cuts or scrapes with soap and water.
- Apply antibiotic ointment.
- Cover wounds with a bandage or dressing.
- Do not scratch wounds.
- Call the doctor right away if the area becomes red or inflamed.
- Seek prompt medical care for larger wounds or bites.
- Wash your hands after coming in contact with fish, poultry, eggs, or meat. Do not handle these items if you have cuts or sores.
- If your legs tend to swell, elevate them several times a day and wear support stockings.
- Get recommended vaccines for children and adults.
- Follow treatment plans for chronic health conditions.
Cellulitis and erysipelas. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/cellulitisErysipelas/Pages/default.aspx. Updated November 08, 2013. Accessed September 11, 2015.
Cellulitis and erysipelas. Patient UK website. Available at: http://patient.info/health/cellulitis-and-erysipelas-leaflet. Updated April 11, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2015.
Erysipelas. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://www.dermnetnz.org/bacterial/erysipelas.html. Updated December 13, 2014. Accessed September 11, 2015.
Erysipelas. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115431/Erysipelas. Updated July 25, 2014. Accessed September 11, 2015.
Management of erysipelas and cellulitis. The International Foundation for Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.ifd.org/protocols/erysipelas-and-cellulitis. Accessed September 11, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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