Cellulitis – Treatment
- Cellulitis is an infection of the epidermis/dermis and subcutaneous tissues.
- Cellulitis is a common reason for emergency department visits.
- Most patients can be managed with oral antibiotics. Frequently, patients and some clinicians have the expectation that they require intravenous antibiotics to treat the cellulitis. IV antibiotics treatments clog already crowded EDs, take up nursing and physician and patient time and expose nurses to the risk of needle stick injury.
- Most cases of cellulitis are caused by either staphylococcus aureus or streptococcus species.
- Skin cultures are not helpful.
- Cultures usually not helpful for cellulitis or diabetic foot infections.
- Beware of infections over joints (septic arthritis).
- Beware of hand infections (tenosynovitis – which requires plastic surgery consultation).
- Ultrasound in cellulitis can help to diagnose deep abscesses.
- Oral clindamycin is absorbed as well as IV – no need for IV unless vomiting or toxic.
- Initial management should be with cephalexin 500 mg PO QID for 5-7 days. Allergic patients can be treated with clindamycin 300 mg PO tid x 5-7 days.
- If patients are systemically unwell (sepsis – 2 or more SIRS criteria: HR > 90/min; RR > 20/min; T > 38 degrees C), they may require intravenous antibiotics, but many can still be managed as outpatients. Ceftriaxone 2 grams IV q 24hr or cefazolin 2 grams IV given with 1 gram of PO probenecid (to prolong renal excretion of cefazolin) are reasonable choices.
- Diabetic foot: (cellulitis on areas of body are treated as in non-diabetic patients):
- Oral: Moxifloxacin 400 mg PO once daily x 7 days
- IV: Ertepenem 1 gram IV q 24 hr until improvement, then step down to oral.
- Bites: (animal/human): Clavulin 500 mg PO TID x 7 days
- Salt water: (vibrio vulnificans) Ciprofloxacin 500 mg PO BID x 7 days
- Fresh water: (aeromonas hydrophila) Ciprofloxacin 500 mg PO BID x 7 days
- Injection drug user (high risk for MRSA):
- Oral: Doxycycline 100 mg PO BID x 7 days; (or Septra DS 1 PO BID x 7 days)
- IV: Vancomycin – weight/renal function based
Criteria For Hospital Admission
- Most cases of cellulitis can be managed as an outpatient.
- Patients who are elderly, have multiple co-morbidities, or are unable to return to hospital on a daily basis for IV treatment (if required) may need admission.
- Patients with severe cellulitis and/or sepsis may require admission to hospital.
Criteria For Transfer To Another Facility
- If there is a suspicion of possible necrotizing fasciitis (see Necrotizing Fasciitis – Diagnsosis), transfer to a facility with surgical capabilities and ICU is required.
Criteria For Close Observation And/or Consult
- Suspicion of necrotizing fasciitis necessitates early referral to surgery/plastic surgery.
- Vasculopathic patients (DM, PVD) with severe cellulitis in the leg/foot need referral to vascular surgery.
- Patients not improving/worsening after several days of treatment or patients in whom unfamiliar antibiotics may be indicated will benefit from an infectious diseases consult.
- Ophthalmologic referral for patients with suspected orbital cellulitis.
Criteria For Safe Discharge Home
- Completion of antibiotic prescriptions provided to patients should be emphasized.
- Improvement in erythema and pain is slow and lags behind bacterial cure; tell patients that symptoms will not improve for at least 36 hours following initiation of antibiotics.
Quality Of Evidence?
We are highly confident that the true effect lies close to that of the estimate of the effect. There is a wide range of studies included in the analyses with no major limitations, there is little variation between studies, and the summary estimate has a narrow confidence interval.
We consider that the true effect is likely to be close to the estimate of the effect, but there is a possibility that it is substantially different. There are only a few studies and some have limitations but not major flaws, there are some variations between studies, or the confidence interval of the summary estimate is wide.
When the true effect may be substantially different from the estimate of the effect. The studies have major flaws, there is important variations between studies, of the confidence interval of the summary estimate is very wide.
The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) 2014 guidelines for the management of skin and soft tissue infections is evidence-based. There are several randomized trials demonstrating that oral is as effective as IV therapy for moderate cellulitis.
OTHER RELEVANT INFORMATION
Aboltins CA, Hutchinson AF, Sinnappu RN, Cresp D, Risteski C, Kathirgamanathan R, Tacey MA, Chiu H, Lim K. Oral versus parenteral antimicrobials for the treatment of cellulitis: a randomized non-inferiority trial. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2015 Feb;70(2):581-6. doi: 10.1093/jac/dku397. Epub 2014 Oct 21.
The purpose of this document is to provide health care professionals with key facts and recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of patients in the emergency department. This summary was produced by Emergency Care BC (formerly the BC Emergency Medicine Network) and uses the best available knowledge at the time of publication. However, healthcare professionals should continue to use their own judgment and take into consideration context, resources and other relevant factors. Emergency Care BC is not liable for any damages, claims, liabilities, costs or obligations arising from the use of this document including loss or damages arising from any claims made by a third party. Emergency Care BC also assumes no responsibility or liability for changes made to this document without its consent.
Last Updated Oct 31, 2018
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