Clarisse Ineza has a huge scar on her right leg. She says it was a result of an infection from a small insect bite that she had previously ignored. She has cellulitis.
“This scar is as a result of infection that I obtained from an insect bite that I had previously taken for granted. Little did I know that this would turn out to be a serious injury that would lead me to hospital,” she says.
Like Ineza, very many people are fond of ignoring minor skin injuries, let alone keeping their skin hygienic. What they need to know, however, is that this could even lead to life threatening situations.
But what is cellulitis?
Dr Racna Pandey, a medic at Ruhengeri Hospital, describes cellulitis as a painful infection and common infection of the skin and the soft tissues underneath. It happens when bacteria enter the skin and spread.
“Cellulitis is usually painful. Any part of the body can be affected, but commonly, legs are implicated probably because of increased susceptibility of cuts and wounds on legs providing portal of entry for microbes,” she says.
Skin injuries such as cuts, insect bites or surgical incisions are commonly the sites of the infection.
She further explains that often times, affected part becomes red, swollen and painful and there may be abscess formation with collection of pus. There may also be formation of small blisters as well, and one may develop fever.
Dr Elisah Agaba, a dermatologist at University Teaching Hospital (CHUK), also explains that complications maybe mild or acute depending on the type of bacteria.
“Local implications include abscess formation, necrotising fasciitis, recurrent cellulitis, chronic lymphdema while distant complications include bacteriema, meningitis. It may indicate a non-necrotising inflammation of the skin and subcutaneous tissues, usually from acute infection,” he says.
Agaba further says that untreated infection can drain into lymphatics causing swelling of lymph nodes. Infection may pass on in blood stream causing septicemia, and can extend deeper, infecting underlying tissues and even bones.
Who is prone to cellulitis?
Although anyone can be affected, certain people are more prone to the infection. Risk factors include being overweight, diabetic or having circulation problems. These increase the risk of infection because of factors such as reduced blood supply and a weakened immune system.
According to Dr Pande, people with reduced immunity like diabetics, those who are HIV-positive, the elderly and those with cancer, are more prone to it. They risk developing cellulitis depending on their exposure to bacteria because their immunity is compromised with these conditions.
Dr Agaba also notes that patients with skin conditions are at increased risk of injuries on the skin barrier.
“People with eczema, dry skin and even circulatory problems are also prone to this kind of infection,” he says
This means that keeping the skin adequately moisturised, keeping ones’ immune system strong and avoiding breaking of the skin is vital. It is through cuts on the skin that bacteria get access to the dermis to cause cellulitis.
Most people can be treated with oral antibiotics at home. However, those who feel very unwell or have underlying health problems may need to be treated in hospital. As with all infections, it’s important to avoid dehydration.
Dr Agaba warns that complications may arise if there is delay in treatment of cellulitis or if inappropriate treatment is given.
“Treatment of complications also varies depending on the type. Early diagnosis and proper treatment cure cellulitis, hence prevent ing development of complications,” he says.
“If there are any breaks in the skin, keep them clean and cover them with a dressing or plaster.
Seek medical advice immediately if you suspect cellulitis. The infection can develop into an abscess and/or spread into the blood causing blood poisoning,” he adds.