Menu Close

How to Identify, Prevent and Treat Cellulitis Infections Among IV Drug Users

How to Identify, Prevent and Treat Cellulitis Infections Among IV Drug Users

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that causes extreme inflammation and reddening of the skin. Although anybody can contract it, the condition is commonly found in IV drug users. When left untreated, the infection will quickly spread to the soft tissue underneath the skin and have long-term effects on the body. Therefore, it should be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible to avoid further complications.

“Get your loved one the help they need. Our substance use disorder program accepts many health insurance plans, this is our residential program.”

What Is Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a form of staph infection that enters the body through vulnerable areas. It causes swelling and extreme soreness of the skin and the tissue underneath. As the infection spreads, it can produce abscesses in a varying degree of sizes. People with extreme cases may also experience fevers and other flu-like symptoms.

How Dangerous Is It?

At its worst, cellulitis can spread from the skin to other parts of the body. As a result, it can cause injury to soft tissue such as muscles, tendons and ligaments. When allowed to progress, the infection can spread through the bloodstream to the lymph nodes, causing gangrene or bone infection. It can also be life-threatening, leading to sepsis, if left untreated.

IV Drug Users Are More Susceptible

Cellulitis is one of the most common infections found in IV drug users. This is, in part, because it develops when staph bacteria enters the body through cuts, scratches and scrapes. Because the infection is contracted through openings in the skin, people who abuse IV drugs are more prone to develop it. Those who have open wounds or scabs are, in a sense, providing the bacteria with a doorway into the body. As a drug user punctures their skin with a needle, they create potential entry points for staph bacteria. Injecting into the same spot repeatedly greatly increases the chances of contracting infection.

Anyone Can Catch It

It is common for healthy people to carry the staph bacteria that causes cellulitis on their skin. People are able to keep the infection dormant by maintaining a strong immune system. As the immune system weakens, however, the bacteria is allowed to reproduce. It then becomes more of a threat. When given the opportunity to enter the body through a wound, the staph bacteria pushes its way in and begins to thrive.

“We treat both addiction and co-occurring disorders and accept many health insurance plans. Take a look at our inpatient program.”

Symptoms of Cellulitis Infection

Cellulitis is most commonly recognized by the redness and swelling of the skin. However, there are numerous other symptoms of infection. Those who have an infection will commonly experience:

  • Soreness in the swollen area
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • A rapidly-spreading redness/rash
  • Shiny, rough patches on the skin
  • Temperature increase in the affected area(s)
  • Abscesses/boils
  • Mild to high-level fever

Worsening cases may show the following symptoms:

  • Trembling
  • Aching
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive blistering

Where Does It Commonly Appear on the Body?

Cellulitis in the arms and legs is most common. The fingers, toes and neck are also prone to developing infection. These, after all, are the most vulnerable parts of the body. As the infection spreads, however, it may appear on the torso, shoulders and other body parts. Staph infection does not usually affect the head in the early stages, although “skin-popping” (picking at skin) can lead cellulitis to appear in the face.

Potential Complications

Complications are uncommon if the infection is tended to. That’s why the most important thing for you to do in the case of a skin infection is to see a doctor. Particularly if you are an IV drug user, tissue infections can spread easily and cause some pretty terrible problems. Once it spreads through the body, cellulitis poses a significant threat to your deep tissue. If it’s allowed to worsen, you risk contracting: Gangrene: Gangrene is also known as “tissue death”. It’s rare, but it’s one of the most severe outcomes of tissue infection. Essentially, gangrene happens when a piece of your muscle tissue does not receive enough blood. Eventually, the tissue dies. This can have very bad effects on the inside and outside of your body.

Shock: Your body can go into shock when the blood stops circulating properly. Because tissue infection inhibits your blood from moving around the way it should, an untreated infection can result in shock.

Blood infection: When the infection enters the bloodstream, it can potentially infect the blood itself. This is dangerous because it can enable the infection to spread rapidly to other parts of the body. Inflamed lymph vessels: Lymph nodes are responsible for keeping your immune system healthy. They contain the cells that fight off infection. When your lymph nodes are working extra hard, they tend to swell up. If the tissue infection becomes too big of a task, the lymph nodes can swell to an unhealthy size. They’ll become weaker in the process. This can have an effect on your overall immune system.

Bone infection: In some instances, the infection can enter the bone itself. Bone infections are most commonly found in the longest bones on the body. Cellulitis commonly occurs in the arms and legs, where the bones are most prone to infection. This is uncommon, but can pose a serious threat if allowed to spread.

What Are the Risk Factors for Infection?

Although it can be contracted by people who display no risk factors, there are certain things to look out for, such as:

Skin injuries:  Cuts or openings in the skin, of any sort, greatly increases the likelihood of developing cellulitis. These openings can be caused by a number of factors:

  • Broken or fractured bones
  • Burns
  • Scrapes
  • Bug bites
  • Prolonged skin conditions such as athlete’s foot, eczema, chickenpox, etc.
  • Cracking skin due to obesity or chronic swelling
  • Surgery (Stitched areas are extremely vulnerable to cellulitis and other infections)
  • Punctures created by IV drug use

Low immune system:  Disorders to have a negative effect on the immune system greatly increase the chances of contracting tissue infections. HIV/AIDS, diabetes and cancer will make the body more prone to cellulitis. Additionally, there are a few select medications that will compromise the immune system.

History of staph infection:  Those who have contracted staph bacteria in the past, particularly in the lower half of the body, are more likely to experience recurring cases. Poor hygiene: Prolonged exposure to staph bacteria will increase the likelihood of contraction. Poor hygiene doesn’t help. Those who allow bacteria to reproduce on the surface of the skin are more prone to experiencing tissue infection.

“We accept many health insurance plans. Get your life back in order, take a look at our residential program.”

When to Get Examined

Tissue infections like cellulitis are sometimes confused for other ailments such as bug bites and rashes. However, it is vital that you see a doctor if you’re showing symptoms. Any rash can be potentially harmful, after all. It is also important that you don’t attempt to use medication without first consulting a doctor.

What to Do if You Think You Have an Infection

In the case that you show symptoms of skin or tissue infection, start by cleaning the area with soap and warm water. Make sure that the affected area stays as clean as possible until you see a doctor. Also, the affected area should stay dry. Bacteria thrives in damp, dirty conditions. Clean it off and pat it down with a towel. This will help you minimize the chances of further spreading. Elevate the infected area. If your leg is showing symptoms of cellulitis, keep it propped up at a height above your heart level. This will enable to blood to move away from your leg and decrease swelling. Do not use any antibacterial ointment unless directed to do so by a doctor. You don’t want to risk using the wrong medication. It could make the problem worse.

Home Remedies for Tissue Infection

It is not recommended that you attempt to treat cellulitis and other soft tissue injuries on your own. You’ll most likely want a doctor to have a look. However, there are some things you can do in the meantime: Keep your infection clean: Use soap and warm water to clean off your skin. Avoid getting any dirt on it whenever possible. Don’t apply any chemicals or medications to it unless a doctor tells you to. Apply a warm compress: A damp towel will help you to prevent the infection from getting worse.  Soak in a warm bath several times per day. Wear loose clothing: You’ll want to give your infection room to breathe. Wear short pants and sleeveless shirts if possible. Don’t wear clothing that might create sweaty pools for bacteria to gather around the infection. Avoid getting too much sunlight: Whether it’s just starting or healing, your infection won’t like the sun. Too much sunlight can dry out your skin, potentially making the wound worse. Stay in the shade if you can or cover up with loose-fitting clothes. Steer clear of irritants: Certain cleaning products and chemicals will irritate your infection. Avoid touching anything toxic. It might have a negative effect on your infection.

Who Should You Call?

Any primary-care physician will treat cellulitis. This includes general and family physicians as well as internists. If you go to the emergency room or seek help at an urgent care facility, you’ll most likely meet with a medicine specialist. They will most likely treat you on the spot. Depending on the severity of the case, however, they may refer you to a surgeon or infection specialist.

Talking to Your Doctor

A doctor will be able to diagnose the infection. They’ll determine whether or not you have cellulitis. They’ll also be able to prescribe the necessary medications. The doctor may ask if you use IV drugs. This will better help them to diagnose your condition. It is important that you give them as much information as possible in order to get the proper diagnosis.

How to Treat Cellulitis

Depending on the severity, the doctor may prescribe a variety of different treatments. These treatments might include oral antibiotics or creams. Your prescription will most likely last two to three weeks. The doctor may prescribe other medications. Some of the best antibiotics used to treat cellulitis are:

  • Penicillin
  • Amoxicillin
  • Cefazolin
  • Erythromycin
  • Doxycycline
  • Augmentin
  • Bactrim
  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
  • Ampicillin (Unasyn)
  • Azithromycin (Zmax)
  • Imipenem (Primaxin)

Whichever the doctor prescribes to you, it is vital that you stick to your antibiotic regimen. You should also monitor the progress of your infection and report back to your doctor if nothing improves.

Will I Be Hospitalized Overnight?

In certain cases, the doctor will advise you to stay in the hospital overnight. This will allow them to monitor your infection more closely. If you have a severe fever, for example, you may want to be hospitalized. If you return to the doctor because your cellulitis isn’t getting better, they may ask to you stay. If you have any allergies to antibiotics, you may be required to stay for treatment. The doctor will want to make sure that you don’t face any unwanted side effects from the medication.

Cellulitis Healing Stages

When taking antibiotics, you’ll quickly begin to notice that the soreness goes away. The appearance of the skin will start to improve. You should start to see results within three days of treatment. If you don’t see improvements after one week of treatment, consult your doctor. Once you contract cellulitis, you increase the chances that it will come back. It is important, therefore, that you recognize the symptoms and see a doctor if you’re worried.

Abscess Surgery

Most of the time, surgery isn’t required to treat cellulitis. However, when severely large abscesses are present, surgery may be required. A doctor will schedule an emergency surgery if an abscess needs to be removed immediately. If there is an excess of dead tissue, as well, surgical procedures may be called for.

Cellulitis Prevention

Most people carry staph bacteria on their bodies every day. However, you’re not usually at risk to contract cellulitis or another form of tissue infection. These infections develop from a number of specific circumstances. By eliminating the conditions necessary for staph to thrive, you can greatly decrease your chances of contracting an infection. Here’s what you can do: Keep your skin clean: The best thing you can do to prevent tissue infections is to wash your skin regularly. Take showers. Wash your hands. It’s very important for you to have clean hands. Our fingernails are a great place for infection to live, so scrub under your nails as often as possible. Maintaining good hygiene is the key to fighting off infection, so don’t forget to do it. Protect yourself: Do what you can to avoid getting nasty cuts. You don’t want to open up your skin for infections to enter. Wear shoes when walking outside. Wear gloves when working with sharp objects like metal, nails, etc. If you use IV drugs for any reason, make sure to use sterilized needles. The main cause for cellulitis among IV drug users is improper needle usage. Treat your injuries promptly: Don’t let a cut sit and gather germs for hours before treatment. If you scrape your knee, slice your finger or simply get a paper cut, treat it as soon as possible. Rub some antibacterial cream and cover it with a bandage to avoid allowing germs in. Use warm water to clean your injuries whenever possible. Visit a doctor if necessary: Certain injuries need to be treated by a pro. Large wounds present a great risk of infection. See a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Insect or animal bites
  • Blisters from burns
  • Deep wounds with dirt in them
  • Frostbite
  • Wounds that are touched by water (ocean water or public pools)

Moisten your skin: If you are prone to cracking, keep your skin moisturized. Drink plenty of water and pat yourself down with a damp towel as often as possible. Use essential oils or moisturizing lotion to avoid drying out. If possible, stay away from toxic chemicals and cleaning products. They tend to dry the skin out. Wear gloves whenever dealing with irritating chemicals.

Pictures of Cellulitis and Soft Tissue Injuries

There are images of cellulitis available at the following links. These sites may help you to determine whether or not you have a soft tissue infection:

Does Someone You Know Have a Tissue Infection?

It’s important to remember that cellulitis and other tissue infections are treatable. When diagnosed properly, these conditions can easily be cured. If left to spread, however, soft tissue infections are extremely dangerous. You should always have a doctor take a look if you’re showing symptoms. Similarly, if you or someone close to you is an IV drug user, make sure that they take steps to eliminate bacteria. They should wash regularly and clean any wounds. Cellulitis is common among drug addicts. When allowed to spread, the blood infection that can develop is potentially life threatening. Make sure that you or your love one seeks treatment as soon as possible.