Cellulitis vs. Erysipelas

What's the Difference?

Cellulitis and Erysipelas are both skin infections caused by bacteria, but they differ in terms of the affected skin layers and symptoms. Cellulitis is a deeper infection that affects the deeper layers of the skin, including the subcutaneous tissue and sometimes even the muscle. It typically presents as a red, swollen, and painful area of skin, often accompanied by fever and chills. On the other hand, Erysipelas is a superficial infection that affects the upper layers of the skin, specifically the dermis. It is characterized by a well-defined, raised, and intensely red rash, often with a sharp border. While both conditions require medical attention and treatment with antibiotics, Erysipelas tends to have a more distinct appearance and may be associated with a higher fever.


CauseBacterial infection, commonly by Staphylococcus or StreptococcusBacterial infection, primarily by Streptococcus
AppearanceRed, swollen, warm, and painful skinBright red, raised, and well-defined skin rash
LocationCan occur anywhere on the bodyUsually affects the lower legs and face
ProgressionMay spread rapidly and affect deeper tissuesTypically spreads slowly and remains superficial
FeverCommonly presentOften accompanied by high fever
Lymph NodesMay be swollen and tenderUsually not affected
TreatmentAntibiotics, rest, elevation, and wound careAntibiotics, rest, elevation, and wound care

Further Detail


Cellulitis and erysipelas are two common skin infections that can cause redness, swelling, and pain. While they share some similarities, it is important to understand their distinct attributes to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of cellulitis and erysipelas, including their causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options.


Both cellulitis and erysipelas are primarily caused by bacterial infections. However, the specific bacteria involved differ between the two conditions. Cellulitis is commonly caused by Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria, which enter the skin through cuts, wounds, or cracks. Erysipelas, on the other hand, is mainly caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria, which typically enter the skin through a break or opening, such as a cut or ulcer.


While cellulitis and erysipelas share similar symptoms, there are some subtle differences to be aware of. Both conditions typically present with redness, warmth, swelling, and pain in the affected area. However, erysipelas often has a more well-defined border, with a raised, distinct edge that may be described as "peau d'orange" or resembling the texture of an orange peel. In contrast, cellulitis may have a less defined border and can spread more diffusely throughout the skin.

Additionally, erysipelas is more likely to cause systemic symptoms such as fever, chills, and fatigue. These symptoms are less common in cellulitis, although severe cases can also lead to systemic involvement.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of developing cellulitis or erysipelas. These include:

  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having a chronic skin condition, such as eczema or athlete's foot
  • Having a history of previous cellulitis or erysipelas infections
  • Having lymphedema, a condition characterized by swelling due to impaired lymphatic drainage
  • Having diabetes or other conditions that affect blood circulation
  • Experiencing trauma or injury to the skin
  • Using intravenous drugs

It is important to note that while these risk factors increase the likelihood of developing cellulitis or erysipelas, anyone can be affected by these infections.


The treatment approach for cellulitis and erysipelas is generally similar, involving antibiotics to eliminate the bacterial infection. However, the choice of antibiotics may vary depending on the severity of the infection and the suspected bacteria involved. In mild cases, oral antibiotics such as penicillin or cephalosporins are often prescribed. For more severe infections or cases where hospitalization is required, intravenous antibiotics may be administered.

In addition to antibiotics, other supportive measures may be recommended to manage symptoms and aid in recovery. These may include elevating the affected limb, applying warm compresses to reduce pain and swelling, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers.


If left untreated or inadequately managed, both cellulitis and erysipelas can lead to complications. These may include:

  • Abscess formation: Pockets of pus may develop within the infected area.
  • Cellulitis recurrence: Some individuals may experience recurrent episodes of cellulitis, especially if underlying risk factors are not addressed.
  • Lymphangitis: Inflammation of the lymphatic vessels can occur, leading to red streaks extending from the infected area.
  • Sepsis: In severe cases, the infection can spread to the bloodstream, causing a potentially life-threatening condition known as sepsis.

It is crucial to seek medical attention promptly if symptoms worsen or if signs of complications arise.


While it may not always be possible to prevent cellulitis or erysipelas, there are measures that can reduce the risk of infection. These include:

  • Keeping the skin clean and moisturized
  • Protecting the skin from cuts, scrapes, and insect bites
  • Treating any underlying skin conditions promptly
  • Avoiding sharing personal items that come into contact with the skin, such as towels or razors
  • Practicing good hygiene, including regular handwashing
  • Wearing appropriate protective gear when working in environments with a higher risk of infection

By adopting these preventive measures, individuals can reduce their susceptibility to these skin infections.


Cellulitis and erysipelas are both bacterial skin infections that share similarities in terms of symptoms and treatment. However, understanding their differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate management. While cellulitis is commonly caused by Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria, erysipelas is primarily caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria. Erysipelas often presents with a well-defined border and may cause systemic symptoms, while cellulitis can spread more diffusely and is less likely to cause systemic involvement. Prompt medical attention, proper antibiotic treatment, and preventive measures can help minimize the impact of these infections and reduce the risk of complications.

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