Complications of cellulitis 

Complications of cellulitis can include blood poisoning, abscesses, necrotising fasciitis and meningitis.

Blood poisoning (septicaemia)

If the bacteria infecting your skin and tissue enter your bloodstream, it can lead to blood poisoning (septicaemia). Symptoms of blood poisoning include:

  • high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • rapid heartbeat
  • rapid breathing
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • changes in mental behaviour, such as confusion or disorientation
  • diarrhoea
  • reduced urine flow
  • cold, clammy skin
  • pale skin
  • loss of consciousness

If you have any of these symptoms, call 999 for an ambulance.

Read more information about blood poisoning.

Abscess

Some cases of cellulitis can result in an abscess forming near the site of the infection. 

An abscess is a swollen, pus-filled lump under the surface of the skin. It is caused by a build up of bacteria and dead white blood cells.

In some cases, the antibiotics used to treat cellulitis may also help to remove the abscess. But if not, the pus will have to be drained from the abscess through a small cut in your skin.

See abscess for more information.

Necrotising fasciitis

Necrotising fasciitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection of the deep layer of skin. This causes the affected tissue to die (gangrene).

Symptoms develop rapidly and include very severe pain, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and unconsciousness.

Treatment includes surgery to remove the affected tissue and antibiotics.

There are around 500 cases of necrotising fasciitis in the UK every year.

Facial cellulitis and meningitis

Facial cellulitis is an uncommon form of cellulitis that develops on the skin of the face. It accounts for an estimated 8.5% of all cases of cellulitis.

Facial cellulitis is most common in children under three years old and older adults above 50. If facial cellulitis is left untreated in children, the bacteria can potentially spread to the outer membranes of their brain (the meninges) and trigger a serious brain infection called meningitis.

Symptoms of meningitis can differ in adults, but symptoms in babies and children under three years old include:

  • becoming floppy and unresponsive, or stiff with jerky movements
  • becoming irritable and not wanting to be held
  • unusual crying
  • vomiting and refusing feeds
  • pale and blotchy skin
  • loss of appetite
  • staring expression
  • very sleepy and reluctant to wake up

Bacterial meningitis is serious and should be treated as a medical emergency. If left untreated, a bacterial infection can cause severe brain damage and infect the blood.

If you suspect your child has symptoms of meningitis, call 999 immediately for an ambulance.

The best way to protect your child against meningitis is to make sure they have been vaccinated with the:

The vaccine and the booster provide immunity against two leading causes of meningitis in children:

  • haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria
  • group C meningococcal bacteria

Ask your GP if you're unsure whether your child’s vaccinations are up to date.

Read about meningitis and see the vaccination planner for more information.




Meningitis symptoms

Meningitis is a very serious illness but, if treated quickly, most children make a full recovery. Our symptom alert helps you to recognise the signs, and it includes a printable checklist.

Page last reviewed: 15/08/2014

Next review due: 15/08/2016