Summer scrapes can mean cellulitis

Keeping an eye on cuts could keep kids safe from infection


Health When Chicago mom Terry Baldwin saw a large bug bite on her 13-year-old son's arm, she did what any mom would do. She rubbed a little hydrocortisone cream on the bite. Her son, Frank, didn't show her the small scrape behind his knee.

But the bite didn't heal after a few days, and the scrape behind Frank's knee had gotten so large and infected, he was limping. He also had a fever. Baldwin took her son to the doctor.

"[Our pediatrician] took a little, sterile razor and opened [the bite and the scrape]. Puss just poured out of them," Baldwin says.

Frank had cellulitis, the same skin infection that hospitalized Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert last month.

Cellulitis can develop from insect bites or any break in the skin-especially in the summer.

"It doesn't matter how old they are or how hygienic their homes are-children go outside and they play in the dirt," says Aleta Clark, the Baldwin's pediatrician. "Children pick at things, and your hands always have some bacteria on them."

Haven't heard of cellulits? You're probably familiar with streptococcus (strep) and staphylococcus (staph), two kinds of bacteria that cause the infection. Symptoms are redness and swelling, pain or tenderness and fever.

Cellulitis usually develops on the arms and legs, but in children it is common on the face as well, says Murad Alam, a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

But don't panic-there's no need to rush to the emergency room. To protect your children from tissue infections:

Check for any scrapes and keep all wounds clean.

Make sure kids wash their hands two or three times a day.

Keep fingernails short so they are less likely to break the skin.

"In general, if a child gets a cut or a scrape, keep an eye on it," says Rachel Gorwitz, medical epidemiologist with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "Keep it clean, keep it covered and keep an eye for signs of infection."

After a week of doctor visits and antibiotics, Frank's arm and leg healed and he headed off to two weeks at Boy Scout camp. But his mom is on the defensive against any more infections.

"[The cellulitis] was a wake-up call to me to be more vigilant about reminding him," she says. "I'm going to send him with a huge tube of Neosporin and like 100 Band-Aids."

Anne Halliday

Kids Eat Chicago

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