Bites from mosquitoes, wasps, spiders and other insects can break your skin, leaving an opening for bacteria to enter.
Insect bites do not directly cause conditions like cellulitis. However, the broken skin and itching associated with insect bites increases your risk of developing cellulitis from an insect bite.
What is cellulite?
Cellulitis is a skin infection that can be caused by many types of bacteria. It causes swelling, redness and pain in the infected area. If you don’t treat cellulite, it can spread and cause serious problems affecting your joints, bones, blood, or heart. Cellulitis can be treated by your healthcare provider with antibiotics.
Although cellulitis can be caused by many types of bacteria, the two most common types belong to group A. Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria live on your skin and under your fingernails.
Most insect bites are mild and can be treated at home. However, insect bites cause a break in the skin which can allow bacteria to enter. If you scratch an insect bite, you can transfer bacteria from under your fingernails or the surrounding skin into the wound.
If you are bitten by an insect, treat it immediately to avoid complications like cellulitis.
- Move away from the area to avoid being bitten or stung.
- If you see a stinger, remove it from your skin.
- Wash the insect bite area with soap and water.
- Reduce pain and swelling by applying a cold cloth to the area for 10-20 minutes.
- If the bite or sting is on your arm or leg, elevate the limb to help reduce swelling.
- Apply calamine lotion, baking soda paste, or hydrocortisone cream to the area several times a day.
- Take an antihistamine like cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine to help reduce itching.
- Use an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed.
What is cellulitis caused by an insect bite?
A bug bite alone won’t give you cellulitis. Insects do not transmit cellulitis-causing bacteria through their bites or stings. However, the break in your skin caused by the bite or sting can give bacteria a chance to get inside your body and cause an infection. These types of bacteria usually live on your skin, nose, and mouth, even if you are healthy.
Symptoms of cellulitis caused by an insect bite
Symptoms of cellulitis from an insect bite may not develop in the first few days after an insect bite. They usually start as a small area of red, swollen, tender, and warm skin. The skin may be pitted like orange peel or develop blisters. You may have fever and chills. Cellulite is most common on the feet and legs, but it can appear on any part of your body.
Treat cellulitis from an insect bite
Your doctor can diagnose cellulitis based on a physical exam. No blood test can tell if you have cellulitis, but a test can tell what type of bacteria is causing the infection.
Common treatment for cellulitis insect bites may involve:
Antibiotics. Cellulitis can be treated with an antibiotic that you take by mouth. The type of antibiotic you need will depend on the type of bacteria causing your cellulitis. You may need to take antibiotics for 7-14 days or longer if your immune system is weak.
Some people may need more than one type of antibiotic or may need an IV antibiotic. IV antibiotics may be given in the hospital to treat severe cellulitis or facial cellulitis. People hospitalized for cellulitis usually have to stay in the hospital for just over a week.
Wound care. Caring for the wound is an important part of treating cellulite. Keeping it covered can help it heal faster. Your health care provider will let you know if you need to use special dressings or medications to take care of your wound.
Rest and elevation. You may need to keep the cellulite site elevated to help relieve swelling and help your body heal.
How to prevent cellulitis from an insect bite
Here are some steps you can take to avoid developing cellulitis from an insect bite:
- Use soap and water to clean an insect bite.
- Apply antibiotic ointment to the insect bite if the skin is broken.
- Use a bandage to cover the insect bite to keep it clean and prevent scratching.
- Reapply fresh dressing and ointment daily or whenever soiled.
- Try to prevent itching by taking an over-the-counter antihistamine.
You can also reduce your risk of developing cellulitis from an insect bite by reducing your risk of getting bitten:
- Use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved insect repellent.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants when outdoors.
- Use an insecticide on your clothes.
Risks and Complications of Cellulitis Caused by an Insect Bite
Cellulite can lead to serious complications if left untreated. You should see your doctor immediately if you have cellulitis and any of the following symptoms:
- A large area of red, inflamed skin
- Numbness, tingling, or other changes in the affected area
- Skin that looks blackened
- A red, swollen area around the eyes or behind the ears
- Diabetes or weakened immune system
Untreated cellulite can cause:
- Bacteremia, a blood infection
- Endocarditis, an infection of the inner walls of heart valves and chambers
- Toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening condition caused by bacterial toxins
- Sepsis, an extreme response to infection
- Necrotizing fasciitis, an infection that destroys tissue under the skin