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People may wonder, “Is cellulitis contagious?” Because this condition shares similarities to other skin diseases that are contagious, say impetigo or chickenpox. To answer this question, one needs to understand what is cellulitis, what causes it, and how we can prevent and treat it.
A sample answer to “Is Cellulitis Contagious?” would be: well, no. That is, if you accidentally touch someone who has it, you probably will not get infected. Unfortunately, things are not that simple and that is why it is worth mentioning situations that may result in contamination from one affected person.
What is Cellulitis?
Cellulitis is a well-known infection of the deep skin layers and its underlying connective tissues, which can be caused by multiple bacteria, the most popular being Streptococcus and Staphylococcus.
How can you recognize cellulitis? Well, the affected skin area is red, swollen and painful to the touch. You will also notice it is pretty warm and has a “glossy” finish.
There are several types of cellulitis, according to the site of the skin where the infection is taking place. These are mainly:
- Face (most commonly affecting the cheeks or nose)
- Periorbital space (the proximity to the eye may threaten the vision)
- Leg (very frequent location, particularly people with vascular diseases or complications)
- Perianal region close to the anal orifice (painful location)
As you can see, cellulitis can pretty much affect any part of the skin on your body. However, the most surprising and frightening fact is that cellulitis can become life-threatening if the infection spreads to the bloodstream or lymph vessels and nodes.
If you want to find out more about how serious cellulitis can be, check out the articles regarding the various aspects of cellulitis and its complications.
What can cause Cellulitis?
As was previously mentioned, cellulitis is mostly related to Streptococcus and Staphylococcus bacteria. It is a skin condition that occurs when bacteria penetrates the deepest layers of the skin.
How can bacteria enter your body? Several ways: through an open wound or a cut, an insect bite, a burn or a blister. In fact, if you have any skin condition, like eczema, psoriasis or athlete’s foot, your body is more prone to getting cellulitis.
Since bacteria are normally present at the surface of our skin and constantly around us, having a chronic skin condition will not necessarily result in cellulitis, but having a weakened immune system will.
In order to boost your immune system, be sure to pay attention to your diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, while maintaining proper hygiene.
Other causes of cellulitis include diseases that tend to impair blood circulation, like diabetes, obesity, and pregnancy.
The one fact no one can argue about is that this skin inflammation can occur at any age, at any moment. Having to be around many people in the workplace, or elsewhere, justifies the fact that one might be worried about the potential of being infected, say by an affected coworker. The four most commonly asked questions are as follows:
Is Periorbital Cellulitis contagious?
Periorbital cellulitis involves the area surrounding the eye socket and the eyelids. It can manifest as a red and swollen patch of skin around the eye. The infection may occur following an insect bite, an accidental scratch or a cut that happened near the eye. This location is more frequently observed in children.
As Healthline.com states, peri-orbital cellulitis can be dangerous if it spreads to the eye socket, thus becoming orbital cellulitis. If this type of complication occurs and is not treated in time, it can lead to permanent visual problems, including total blindness.
There is no risk of getting infected if you touch the inflamed skin in this location. Moreover, if you are the caretaker of the affected individual, make sure to take all precautionary measures to prevent contaminating the wound with your own skin bacterial flora while cleaning and changing the dressing.
Is Cellulitis contagious even after taking antibiotics?
Cellulitis cannot be spread just by touching a person that has it. Therefore, touching a person who has been properly treated for cellulitis shouldn’t be a problem.
However, if this is recurrent cellulitis, if the patient is not responding well to the antibiotics, which can mean that the bacteria have become resistant, you should be careful and avoid intimate contact. Otherwise, cellulitis treatment is pretty straightforward, and if it is applied on time and adequately, it should lead to a complete resolution of the infection.
The antibiotics will start working after just a couple of days. You will feel better in a matter of a few days. However, that doesn’t mean that you should quit taking antibiotics – on the contrary, you should persist. Follow the doctor’s directions to eradicate the infection and prevent recurrences.
Can Cellulitis be spread when getting a tattoo?
Or, shall we say, does cracking of the skin while tattooing put you at risk for cellulitis? Let’s say no, but…
First of all, we recommend to postpone the tattoo procedure if you have had a skin injury in the area where you are planning to have the tattoo. We also count on you to visit a professional for this. A professional tattoo artist should work under sterile conditions with sterile or sterilized equipment.
However, even with these strict aseptic measures, you still stand the chance of getting a skin infection like cellulitis. Since getting a tattoo is damaging to the skin’s protective layer, having a needle stuck into your skin can raise the risk of bacteria getting under your skin and in the deeper layers.
Can Cellulitis be spread through saliva?
This is one of the most asked questions. More precisely, does kissing make cellulitis contagious? Definitely not.
As mentioned before, cellulitis affects the deeper layers of the skin – the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. In principle, you have nothing to worry about. That same answer goes for the question as to whether or not cellulitis is sexually transmitted.
So, how should you treat Cellulitis?
Cellulitis is most commonly treated with oral antibiotics. In fact, depending on the bacteria causing the infection, several types of antibiotics may be used. The medications are most likely derivatives of penicillin.
However, if the infection spreads and causes more serious symptoms, your doctor will recommend hospitalization and will treat the condition with IV drip of antibiotics.
Is that all it takes to treat this skin inflammation? Hardly! Let’s stop for a second and think about the controversy regarding the question, “Is cellulitis contagious?” Why is it so popular, and why does everyone wonder about this specific topic? The reason is simple – cellulitis can become a full-body disease spreading through the bloodstream.
Cellulitis may also progress into an abscess; if this is the case, you may require surgery. The doctor will need to drain the pus and remove the dead tissue produced by bacterial proliferation. By doing so, the antibiotics will become more effective, and you will heal faster.
To be honest, no one wants to go through surgery for a skin condition that can be treated with oral antibiotics. That is why it is essential to be able to recognize the first symptoms of this skin infection.
Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone Forever?
Unfortunately not, but that doesn’t mean you will necessarily get it again.
In order to make sure you lower the chance of getting it again, the first thing you can do is to take the antibiotics according to the doctor’s prescription. If you are to take it for 10 days, be sure to complete it. Why? Because taking medications for less time than prescribed may lead not only to incomplete eradication of the bacteria, but also to the development of antibiotic resistance, which can explain the recurrences of cellulitis.
Apart from properly treating the condition, you should be very careful with your skin. What does it mean? Well, one thing you can do to ensure you have healthy skin is to keep it clean and moistened. When exercising and playing sports outdoors, be sure to wear adequate gear. This may all sounds familiar.
But what about circumstances beyond your control, like insect bites? No problem – just cover exposed regions such as the arms and the legs and/or apply insect repellent before going for a walk in the forest, for example.
Last but not least, wash your hands regularly with soap and clean wounds and cuts with a disinfectant. The use of antibiotic ointment before covering the wound is always a good option.
How to prevent Cellulitis?
Even if when there are no predisposing factors such as diabetes, poor blood circulation or obesity, there is always a chance of getting cellulitis through open cuts and wounds. This occurs mainly when your immune system is not strong enough or has been weakened by certain medications.
All you can do is practice good hygiene, lead a healthy lifestyle, and take care of your overall health. Since our skin is the first barrier of defense against infection, and it is exposed daily to microscopic injuries, it is important to be attentive to any unusual skin reaction. This precaution makes even more sense when the person has a history of cellulitis.
Cellulitis is not contagious, but…
Overall, the answer to, “Is cellulitis contagious?” is no – you cannot get it by touching someone that has it. That being said, though, it is not always that simple.
So, if you were to have dry skin, or are unaware of the presence of a break in your skin, and you came in contact with the skin’s person with cellulitis, you are at an increased risk of getting cellulitis.
Similarly, if you already have athlete’s foot or other chronic skin diseases, there is an increased opportunity for the bacteria to penetrate deeper under your skin if you touch the affected area of an infected person.
How to prevent the spread of Cellulitis…
The second most popular question after, “Is Cellulitis contagious?” is, “How can I prevent the spread of cellulitis?” This question can be easily answered.
If you do have cellulitis, keep the involved area clean, get treatment from your doctor, and complete the course of antibiotics with a follow-up appointment to ensure that the infection has been resolved.
The main way to prevent the spread of cellulitis is to get rid of your infection as soon as possible, and be considerate of others – that’s all you can really do. Chances are, once you start the treatment prescribed by your doctor, it will heal pretty quickly, so you have nothing to worry about.
Image credits: DepositPhotos.com
Last article update: 10/21/2018
Medically reviewed by Dr. Thouria Bensaoula on Oct 18, 2019.