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Cellulitis in Children

Cellulitis is an infection of the skin. If not treated, cellulitis can get into the bloodstream and lymph nodes and spread throughout the body, causing very serious illness. Because of this danger, it is important for a child with cellulitis to get medical attention right away.

What Causes Cellulitis?

A cut, bite, or scratch, even a small one, can become infected by bacteria (germs). If this infection spreads to deeper layers of skin, it can become very serious. Cellulitis can affect any part of the body, but is often found on the face, arms, and legs. It cannot spread from person to person. Certain new forms of bacteria, called MRSA, can cause cellulitis in children even if there is no cut or scratch. So if a lesion develops that is red and painful, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible. 

Man giving boy spoonful of medication.
Be sure your child finishes ALL of the medication, even if he or she feels better.
 Symptoms of Cellulitis

Call your doctor right away if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • An area of skin that swells and is tender, painful, or warm

  • Redness, bruises, blisters, rash, or red streaks on the skin that extend from a cut, scratch, or bite

  • Fever over 100.4°F (38°C)

  • Weakness or exhaustion

  • Swollen glands

  • Headache, muscle aches, or joint stiffness

  • Hair loss around the infected area

  • Nausea and vomiting

Treating Cellulitis

Cellulitis must be treated by a health professional.

  • Your child will be given a course of antibiotics. Be sure your child takes every dose on time. All the medication must be finished, even if the child feels better.

  • Your doctor may take a sample of the area to check for MRSA or other bacteria. 

  • Your doctor may recommend that you give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help relieve pain. Make sure you give either of these medicines as directed so you don't give too little or too much. Your doctor may tell you to give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Or he or she may tell you to alternate these medicines. Don't give your child or teen aspirin. Aspirin may cause Reye syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition.

  • If instructed, have your child keep the affected area still and elevated. If the area is on the arm or hand, it should be kept above the level of the heart. If the area is on the leg or foot, it should be kept above the level of the hip. This is to reduce swelling and help the antibiotics to work better. Your doctor will tell you if this is necessary and for how long.

The symptoms of cellulitis usually go away after a few days of treatment. For severe cellulitis, treatment must be done in the hospital. There, your child can receive antibiotics and fluids through an IV (intravenous) line. Staff at the hospital may put warm, wet dressings on the area. They will keep a close watch to make sure your child is comfortable and gets plenty of rest.