Erysipelas

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Definition

Erysipelas is a type of skin infection.

Causes

Erysipelas is usually caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. The condition may affect both children and adults.

Some conditions that can lead to erysipelas are:

  • A cut in the skin
  • Problems with drainage through the veins or lymph system
  • Skin sores (ulcers)

The infection occurs on the legs most of the time. It may also occur on the face.

Symptoms

Symptoms of erysipelas are:

  • Blisters
  • Fever, shaking, and chills
  • Painful, very red, swollen, and warm skin underneath the sore
  • Skin sore with a raised border
  • Sores on the cheeks and bridge of the nose

Exams and Tests

Erysipelas is diagnosed based on how the skin looks. A biopsy of the skin is usually not needed.

Treatment

Antibiotics are used to get rid of the infection. If the infection is severe, antibiotics may need to be given through an IV (intravenous line).

People who have repeated episodes of erysipelas may need long-term antibiotics.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With treatment, the outcome is good. It may take a few weeks for the skin to return to normal. Peeling is common.

Possible Complications

Sometimes the bacteria that cause erysipelas may travel to the blood. This results in a condition called bacteremia. When this happens, the infection may spread to the heart valves, joints, and bones.

Other complications include:

  • Return of infection
  • Septic shock (a dangerous body-wide infection)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have a skin sore and other symptoms of erysipelas.

Prevention

Keep your skin healthy by avoiding dry skin and preventing cuts and scrapes. This may reduce the risk for erysipelas.

References

Millet CR, Halpern AV, Reboli A, et al. Bacterial diseases. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 74.

Pasternak MS, Swartz MN. Cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and subcutaneous tissue infections. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser JM, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 95.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 11/12/2014
  • Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, dermatologist in private practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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