Cellulitis: What it is and how to avoid it

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Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the dermis — the deep layer of skin — as well as the subcutaneous tissues (fat and soft tissue layer) that are under the skin. It sometimes appears in areas where the skin has broken open, such as the skin near ulcers or surgical wounds, and is often caused by Staphylococcus (Staph) and Streptococcus (Strep) bacteria. It is not contagious, and is treated successfully with oral or intravenous antibiotics.

Truckers experience just about every physical condition that could predispose them to it. When treated properly, it can be cured fairly quickly, but when left unattended it becomes a chronic health concern that can lead to much more serious issues. It is often difficult to get treatment on the road, and it’s really difficult to get a trucker to shut down and go home to the doctor for something like a little cut on their leg. Preventive care is extremely important for drivers.

The condition usually begins as a small area of pain and redness on the skin. This area spreads to surrounding tissues, resulting in the typical signs of inflammation — redness, swelling, warmth and pain. A fever and/or swollen lymph nodes can also develop. It may occur anywhere on the body, but the lower leg is the most common site of the infection, particularly in the area of the shinbone and in the foot.

Most commonly, cellulitis develops in the area of a break in the skin, such as a cut, small puncture wound, or insect bite. A pre-existing skin infection, such as athlete’s foot or impetigo, can predispose an individual to the development of infections. In other circumstances, cellulitis occurs where there has been no skin break at all, such as with chronic leg swelling, which is one huge reason why truckers are at a higher risk of developing it. Who hasn’t walked around a truck stop with a giant right ankle?

People who have had the condition before, or with conditions such as diabetes, blood circulation problems, chicken pox or shingles are also at a higher risk for developing cellulitis. Obese people are more likely to have peripheral swelling, which puts them at a greater risk as well.

Prevention involves a little soap and water and some common sense. Whenever you have a break in the skin, clean the break carefully with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic cream or ointment every day. Cover with a bandage and change it every day until a scab forms. Watch for redness, pain, drainage or other signs of infection.

Protect your skin by keeping it moist with lotions or ointments to prevent cracking, wearing shoes that fit well and provide enough room for your feet, trimming your nails while avoiding harming the skin around them, and wearing appropriate protective equipment when participating in work.

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