Erysipelas is a bacterial infection of the skin that involves the upper dermis and extends to superficial cutaneous lymphatics. This is an infection caused by streptococcus bacteria. The symptoms of the condition may develop in around 48 hours from the time of infection. The condition is said to be similar to another condition called cellulitis.  Practically, it is extremely difficult for doctors to distinguish between Erysipelas and Cellulitis. However, both the conditions are treated in similar manner. Erysipelas is said to be existing since the middle ages wherein it was called as St. Anthony’s fire. These skin anomalies appears as red, painful, swollen, hardened and warm rashes with similar texture to orange peel. The condition in severe cases may include vesicles, petechiae along with skin necrosis.

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Erysipelas can appear on any region of the body including face, arms, toes, fingers and almost anywhere on the body; however, it is said to be commonly influential on legs. Fat tissues are vulnerable to such infections along with facial regions such as eyes, cheek and ears. This infection can also affect the extreme regions of the body and may be recurrently causing swelling.

Causes of Erysipelas

Erysipelas is primarily caused due to bacteria which penetrate into the skin breaking the protective layer of the skin. The bacterium that causes erysipelas is commonly known as streptococci. These bacteria usually dwell on the skin and other body region yet may not cause infection. These bacteria may penetrate the skin through open wound or sores. Other conditions such as athlete’s foot or eczema may also allow the bacteria to invade the skin. Moreover, any condition wherein blood is allowed to come out of the body can let the bacteria to infect you. If the bacteria affected the nasal passage then there are chances that it may also spread to throat causing throat infection. Here are some factors that stimulate the cause of this infection:

  • Ulcer of skin
  • Cuts on the skin
  • Surgical openings or incisions
  • Bites from insect
  • Skin conditions such as psoriasis
  • Obesity
  • Health issues that cause heart failure
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Injection recreational illegal drugs
  • Anything that can suppress immune system
  • Previous incidence of erysipelas

Symptoms of Erysipelas

Patient affected erysipelas often also experience symptoms such as fever, tremor, tiredness, head pain, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms normally become obvious within 48 hours from the infection. Erysipelas affected skin causes lesions which may become enlarged rapidly along with demarcated, elevated edges. These lesions may also appear reddish and swollen with minute pits. When the condition affects the face it is said to often cover nose and cheeks.


This disease is often diagnosed primarily through demarcated rashes and inflammation experienced by the patient. Blood culture test is not often suggested as this test is not a reliable mode of examination for erysipelas. However, it can be used for detecting sepsis. This condition should be differentiated from other conditions such as herpes zoster, contact dermatitis and diffuse carcinoma of breast. Erysipelas and cellulitis can be distinguished as erysipelas has sharper and advancing edges.

What does Erysipelas look like?

Initially it was believed that Erysipelas primarily affects the face as most cases were recorded with facial infection. However, the condition is now found to be common in legs and extremities. This anomaly may appear in regions were lymphatic system is blocked. There is a group of symptoms that may be experienced 4 to 48 hours in prior to occurrence or rashes.  Rashes then start appearing as bright red shiny patches that may have clearly defined outline. The texture of the affected skin may resemble to a condition called peau d’orange which appears as orange peel.

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Who are at risk ?

The condition can affect people of any age; however, it is found to be common in old individuals, children and infants. People with immune system issues, alcoholics, diabetes mellitus, skin ulcer etc are also at increased risk of this infection. The condition is said to be highly recorded in females than in males.

Erysipelas treatment

If you are not seriously affected with this condition and have good health apart from dermatologic manifestation of the infection then you can undergo outpatient treatment for the issue.  Usually doctors may suggest medication such as penicillin which is primary course of treatment for erysipelas. In less severe condition these medicines may be prescribed in oral-drug form such as tablets or syrups etc. This medicinal course is often a week long. Patients with serious affliction of erysipelas generally need to be hospitalized and antibiotics are intravenously administered.

It becomes important to try different medicines if the bacteria have developed resistance to certain medicines. Patient suffering from discomfort and pain are usually suggested painkiller to deal with symptoms. Antifungal medications will be prescribed to patients who have athlete’s foot associated with the medical anomaly.  In rare cases surgical procedure may be needed if the condition has caused death of tissues. The invasive technique would involve eradication of these dead tissues.

Home care techniques may be suggested for some patient wherein the affected region should be raised higher than the body level. This is said to help in reducing swelling. People with affected legs are suggested to rest more and keep leg elevated. Since the condition can be recurring, one should ask doctor about preventive measures. These methods will help in preventing erysipelas from occurring again.

  Erysipelas pictures

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