Cellulitis pearls


A 38-year-old man is admitted to the hospital with a painful, swollen left leg. This was not the first instance of this kind for him. He had been admitted for the same problem 3 months earlier. During the earlier admission, he was diagnosed with cellulitis and treated with intravenous cefazolin for 4 days, then discharged on cephalexin with resolution of his swelling and pain. Today, his blood pressure is 120/70, pulse is 90, temperature is 38.2°C, his left leg is edematous from the mid-calf to the ankle, and he has erythema and warmth over the calf. His white blood cell count is 13,000, and a diagnosis of cellulitis is made. Which of the following treatments is most likely to shorten his hospital stay?

Dr. Paauw

A. Vancomycin therapy instead of cefazolin.

B. Piperacillin/tazobactam therapy instead of cefazolin.

C. Prednisolone therapy in addition to antibiotics.

D. Furosemide therapy in addition to antibiotics.

The correct answer is C, prednisolone therapy in addition to antibiotics. Corticosteroids have been used as therapy for a number of infectious diseases, and steroid use has been shown to improve survival in patients with bacterial meningitis, tuberculous meningitis, tuberculous pericarditis, severe typhoid fever, tetanus, or pneumocystis pneumonia with moderate to severe hypoxemia.1 Corticosteroid use in many other infections has been studied, and for many infections, symptomatic benefit has been shown. Berkvist and Sjobeck studied 112 patients admitted to the hospital with lower-extremity erysipelas/cellulitis and randomized the patients to receive prednisolone or placebo in addition to antibiotic treatment.2 The prednisolone-treated patients had a shorter hospital stay (5 days vs. 6 days; P less than .01), and had a shorter length of intravenous antibiotic treatment ( 3 days vs. 4 days; P less than .05). The same researchers followed up the study cohort a year later to see if there was any difference in relapse between the steroid- and placebo-treated patients.3 There was no statistically significant difference in relapse (six patients treated with prednisolone relapsed, compared with 13 who received placebo). Solomon et al. did a retrospective study of patients admitted with erysipelas/cellulitis over a 7-year period.4 The control group was defined as patients who received antibiotics but did not receive prednisone, while the other patients in the study received both antibiotics and prednisone. The patients who received antibiotics and prednisone had more severe cellulitis (most had bullous cellulitis) than the patients in the control group. Long-term follow-up showed a higher incidence of erythema and recurrence of cellulitis in the control group. The return to full function was faster in the prednisone-treated patients than in the control group.

Back to the case. Which of the following is most important to do for this patient to help prevent future episodes of cellulitis?

A. Daily penicillin.

B. Treatment of tinea pedis.

C. Hydrochlorothiazide treatment for leg edema.

D. Topical triamcinolone treatment of dry skin on legs.

The correct answer here is treatment of concurrent tinea pedis infection. Antibiotic prophylaxis is considered in patients who have multiple recurrent episodes. This patient’s unilateral edema is most likely attributable to the cellulitis and should resolve with therapy, so diuretics would not be indicated. Risk factors for recurrent cellulitis are tinea pedis, obesity, venous insufficiency, and lymphedema.5


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