Skin and soft-tissue infections (SSTIs) include infections of the skin, subcutaneous tissue, fascia, and muscle ranging from cellulitis to rapidly progressive flesh-eating bacteria (necrotizing fasciitis).
Cellulitis is usually caused by bacteria, such as Staphylococci (“staph”) or Streptococci (“strep”). These are commonly present on the skin or inner surface of the nose or mouth of people who are otherwise healthy. The infection progresses when there’s a break in the skin, such as a wound or a case of Athlete’s foot. This allows bacteria to penetrate the skin and grow, causing infection and swelling.
Cellulitis is most commonly found on the leg, arm, breast, abdomen, or around the eye. It is often mild, and the affected skin usually clears up completely with antibiotic treatment. But, in more severe cases, cellulitis can lead to generalized infection and requires prompt medical care if it is accompanied by fever or a rapid worsening of the skin, or if you have other medical issues, such as diabetes.
Other types of skin and soft tissue infections include abscesses, furuncles (or boils), and carbuncles. With these, skin is raised, reddened, tender, and usually filled with pus.
Often, these infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics – taken strictly as directed – and by keeping the affected area clean and dry. If the infection is severe, however, you may need to be hospitalized or given antibiotics intravenously.
Most forms of cellulitis are not highly contagious. Nevertheless, it is important to wash your hands regularly with soap and water and avoid sharing towels with others.
Open wounds are highly susceptible to infection, including MRSA. Whether you have a wound from surgery or a physical injury that caused a break or tear in the skin, you should keep an eye on the wound and be on the lookout for infection. Signs of an infected wound include:
- Redness or discoloration
- Pain and tenderness
- Purulent drainage
- Scaling or itching
- Inability to heal despite treatment
If you have the fever or chills, the infection may have reached the bloodstream and needs prompt attention.