Pokenga kiri Cellulitis

Cellulitis is an infection of the skin, and the tissue just under the skin. It is often caused by a small break in the skin where bacteria (germs) can get in. Cellulitis can affect any area of skin, but the leg is the most common place.

Cause of cellulitis

Anything that causes a break in the skin such as a cut or graze, severe eczema or an animal or insect bite can allow bugs in to cause a cellulitis.

Cellulitis is most common in tamariki (children) and older people but can affect people of all ages.

Diabetes and other health conditions or treatments that reduce your immunity can make you more likely to get cellulitis.

Symptoms of cellulitis

Cellulitis usually starts with a small patch of redness and swelling, which can be painful and warm to touch. This can spread to cover a bigger area.

If the infection spreads, you may get other symptoms such as nausea, fever or generally feeling unwell.

Cellulitis can lead to a life-threatening infection of the blood. If you have a patch of skin that is red, warm, and getting bigger, see your healthcare provider, or go to after hours as soon as possible, especially if you have diabetes or any other condition that reduces your immunity.

Treating cellulitis

Cellulitis is treated with antibiotics. Usually, your healthcare provider will ask you to take antibiotic tablets. If the infection is more serious, you may need antibiotics given through a vein (IV antibiotics). They may arrange for you to have IV antibiotics without needing to go to hospital.

If you have diabetes, keeping your blood glucose (sugar) down is important.

Contact your healthcare provider again if your cellulitis is getting worse, you are feeling more unwell or there is no improvement after 2 days on antibiotics.

Self care with home

  • Get plenty of rest. This helps your body fight the infection. If you have cellulitis on your leg, walk as little as possible for the first few days.
  • Raise the affected body part on a pillow or chair when you are sitting or lying down. This helps reduce swelling. Continue to do this for at least the first 48 hours.
  • If your arm or hand is affected, use a sling when walking around. This not only helps relieve pain but also helps the healing process.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Preventing cellulitis

You can reduce the chances of getting cellulitis again by:

  • keeping your skin clean and well moisturised — dry skin causes cracks that increase your risk of cellulitis
  • cleaning any cuts or wounds
  • preventing cuts and scrapes by wearing protective clothing and footwear
  • keeping your fingernails short and avoiding scratching
  • treating any breaks in your skin due to athlete’s foot or eczema for example
  • wearing gloves if working outside.

If you have had cellulitis more than once, you might be prescribed low-dose long-term antibiotics to stop infections coming back.

Related websites

DermNet NZ

Detailed information with a variety of photographs.


Information about cellulitis in children.


A GP from the UK health system talks about cellulitis.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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