Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissues that can affect any area of the body. Not to be confused with cellulite - the cottage-cheese-like, lumpy fat often found on the hips, thighs, and buttocks, primarily of women - cellulitis begins in an area of broken skin, like a cut or scratch, allowing bacteria to invade and spread, causing inflammation, which includes pain, swelling, warmth, and redness.

Disorders that create breaks in the skin and allow bacteria to enter, such as eczema and severe acne, will put a child at risk for cellulitis. Chicken pox and scratched insect bites are also common causes. Cellulitis may also start in areas of intact skin, especially in people who have diabetes or who are taking medicines that suppress the immune system.

Cellulitis can be caused by many different types of bacteria, but the most common are Group A Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus. In special cases, other bacteria can cause cellulitis. Cellulitis after a cat or dog bite may be caused by Pasteurella multocida bacteria. Cellulitis due to Pseudomonas infection occurs after nail-puncture wounds through sneakers. Other types of bacteria from fish and farm animals can also cause cellulitis.

One specific type of cellulitis that can occur in children and requires close monitoring is periorbital cellulitis, an infection of the eyelid and tissues surrounding the eye. It can be the result of minor trauma to the area around the eye (such as an insect bite or a scratch), or it may be the extension of another site of infection, such as sinusitis. Periorbital cellulitis is treated with antibiotics and close follow-up. If untreated, it can progress to orbital cellulitis (infection of the eye orbit, or socket), a much more severe infection that results in a bulging eyeball, eye pain, restricted eye movements, or visual disturbances. This is an emergency that requires hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.

Signs and Symptoms
Cellulitis begins as a small, inflamed area of pain, swelling, warmth, and redness on a child's skin. As this red area begins to spread, the child may begin to feel sick and develop a fever, sometimes with chills and sweats. Swollen lymph nodes (commonly called swollen glands) are sometimes found near the area of infected skin.

Contagiousness
Cellulitis is not contagious.

Prevention
You can prevent cellulitis by protecting your child's skin from cuts, bruises, and scrapes. This may not be easy, especially if you have an active child who loves to explore or play sports. Protective equipment worn to prevent other injuries during active play can also protect your child's skin: elbow and knee pads while skating, a bike helmet during bike riding, shin guards during soccer, long pants and long-sleeved shirts while hiking in the woods, sandals (not bare feet) on the beach, and seatbelts while riding in a motor vehicle.

If your child does get a scrape, wash the wound well with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the wound with an adhesive bandage or gauze. Check with your child's doctor if your child has a large cut, deep puncture wound, or bite (animal or human).