Almost any person of any age can get cellulitis and, unfortunately, children are not spared from this condition. Cellulitis is a common ailment among children, mainly because they are prone to breaks in the skin due to cuts, bites and other wounds that they get from being physically active.
Similar to adults, cellulitis in children occur when bacteria enter the dermis. These harmful microorganisms can enter through cuts, insect bites that have been scratched, animal bites and puncture wounds. Chickenpox rashes may also lead to cellulitis.1 In infants, it’s said that accidental injury by the caregiver or self-injury2 (for example, if the baby's sharp, untrimmed nails graze and cause scratches on her skin) may lead to this illness.
Symptoms of Cellulitis in Children
Cellulitis starts as a small, inflamed and painful area on your child’s skin, and spreads to the rest of the body. It usually occurs in the lower legs, face and arms or hands. The skin may appear reddish and warm to the touch, and your child may wince or cry when the affected skin is touched. In some cases, red streaks may radiate outward from the main site of the infection. Blisters or pustules (pus-filled pockets) may also be present.3
Once the redness begins to spread throughout the skin, your child may feel sick and develop a fever accompanied by sweats and chills. Infants who have a cellulitis infection may be fussy and feverish. If the infection appears on an area near lymph nodes, you may notice these glands being swollen as well.
Diagnosing Cellulitis in Children
The incubation time (the period starting from when the bacteria enter your child's body up to when the symptoms manifest) varies from one child to another, depending on the organism that caused it.
However, there’s no need to worry about keeping your children away from other members of your family because cellulitis is generally not contagious. Be warned, though, that the bacteria that cause cellulitis may be passed on through an open wound, so make sure to wash and clean cuts or other abrasions that your other family members may have
If you notice any of the symptoms, it’s best to bring your child to your physician immediately. Doctors can usually diagnose cellulitis through physical examination, but in some cases, especially for very young children, a blood culture may be necessary to check for bacteria growth.
If the results show a positive blood culture, it means that the bacteria have already spread to the bloodstream, a condition known as bacteremia. If not treated, it may lead to septicemia, an infection that affects various systems of the body.
How Can You Protect Your Child From Cellulitis?
Although it’s downright impossible to keep children from getting scrapes or wounds, as children are usually very active and playful, you can implement steps to take precautions. For example, if your child is into sports or loves to explore, make them wear protective equipment like elbow and knee pads, helmets and shin guards. If traveling to a bug-infested area, dress them in long-sleeved shirts and pants, or use a safe insect repellent to protect them from insect bites.
If your child does get wounded, use plain soap and water to wash the cut or injured area. However, if your child has a deep puncture wound or has been scratched or bitten by an animal (such as a dog or cat), consult your physician immediately. Cellulitis can happen very quickly after an animal bite.4