Erysipelas: Causes, Complication, Prevention & Treatment

Picture of Erysipelas


Erysipelas is a bacterial infection in the upper layer of your skin. It is similar to another skin disorder known as cellulitis, an infection in the lower layers of your skin. In practice, it is almost impossible for doctors to tell the difference between the two conditions, but this is not a problem as they are treated in the same way. Erysipelas occurs most frequently in the legs but also commonly affects the face.

Erysipelas is an acute infection of the skin and underlying fat tissues usually caused by the streptococcus bacteria.

Causes of Erysipelas

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 of Erysipelas

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

Who gets erysipelas?

Erysipelas most often affects infants and the elderly, but can affect any age group. Risk factors are similar to those for other forms of cellulitis.

  • Previous episode(s) of erysipelas
  • Venous disease (eg gravitational eczema, leg ulceration) and/or lymphoedema
  • Current or prior injury (eg trauma, surgical wounds, radiotherapy)
  • Diabetes
  • Alcoholism
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy

Treatment of Erysipelas

Antibiotics such as penicillin are used to get rid of the infection. In severe cases, antibiotics may need to be given through an IV (intravenous line).

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

Possible Complications of Erysipelas

The bacteria may travel to the blood in some cases. This results in a condition called bacteremia. The infection may spread to the heart valves, joints, and bones.

Other complications include:

  • Return of infection
  • Septic shock
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

Prevention of Erysipelas

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