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How long cellulitis lasts depends on:

  1. the extent of the infection,
  2. the type of bacteria that caused it, and
  3. the general health of the patient.

Very mild cellulitis cases may resolve themselves in a few days, but for most cases an appropriate antibiotic treatment is required. Most patients fortunately respond well to prescription oral antibiotics. Namely, their symptoms disappear in a few days and have no lasting sequelae.

When oral antibiotics are not successful, intravenous (IV) antibiotics are usually effective. As the infection heals, the skin of the area affected may start to peel off or flake; it can feel quite itchy.

Potential Complications

If not treated adequately, cellulitis may spread extensively and reach the lymphatic or circulatory systems, causing serious complications. Possible complications of cellulitis include:

  • lymphangitis (inflamed lymphatic vessels and/or channels),
  • abscess formation, and, rarely,
  • gangrenous cellulitis or necrotizing fasciitis (tissue death).

Certain bacteria, such as group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus and S. aureus (aka, “staph), produce toxins that may mediate a more severe systemic infection, leading to septic shock and even death. 

What’s the Prognosis?

The prognosis is generally good. But, in people with:

  • poor circulation,
  • diabetes or other immunosuppressive conditions like HIV,
  • chronic swelling in the legs, or
  • skin issues,

cellulitis may be more severe and recurrent.

FAQ

Can you die of a cellulitis infection?

Certain bacteria produce toxins that may cause more severe systemic infections. These infections may lead to septic shock (dangerous drop in blood pressure) and death.

How long does it take for cellulitis to clear up?

Generally, symptoms start to ease after a few days of starting antibiotics. When intravenous antibiotics are required, recovery may be slower.

Does cellulitis peel when healing?

Yes, the skin may peel off or flake as cellulitis heals. The affected area may also feel itchy. But, it is very important to avoid scratching, as this action could worsen the infection.

What happens if cellulitis gets into your bloodstream?

If cellulitis gets to the bloodstream, it may cause a blood infection. Dangerous in its own right, it can be even more dangerous in young children and the elderly, as well as those with a compromised immune system or heart conditions.

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