Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Erysipelas is an infection of the upper layers of the skin.

Causes

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.

Puncture Wound

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Risk Factors

The most common factors that increase the chance of erysipelas:

  • Infancy or older age, though any age group can be affected
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • 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:

Symptoms

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
  • Blisters
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Swollen glands or lymph nodes
  • Fever or chills

Diagnosis

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

Treatment

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.

Prevention

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.