Greg Hunt has been hospitalised with cellulitis. So what is it? And how serious is it?



As Health Minister, Greg Hunt is no stranger to hospitals. But this week, he’s found himself playing an unfamiliar role — patient.

Mr Hunt was diagnosed with cellulitis on Wednesday, a day after being admitted to hospital with a suspected infection.

In a statement, his office said he was on the mend and is expected to be discharged “in the coming days”.

“He’ll be fine by next week, he’ll be back up on his feet,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

So what is cellulitis? And how serious is it? Here are a few fast facts.

What is it?

Cellulitis is a spreading inflammation of the skin, usually caused by a bacterial infection — and if you’ve got it, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know about it.

Those suffering from the infection may experience red, painful and swollen skin that is warm to touch, but more severe cases can also lead to fever, blisters, chills and nausea.

It can occur anywhere on the body, including the face, but is most often encountered on the lower legs and in areas where the skin is damaged or inflamed.

While no-one is immune to developing cellulitis, those who smoke, have diabetes or poor circulation are at a higher risk.

Cellulitis accounted for almost 60,000 hospitalisations and 11 per cent of all potentially preventable hospitalisations in Australia in 2013–14.

How do you get it?

The infection occurs when bacteria, such as staph, enters through the skin.

It could be as simple as a cut, scratch or insect bite, or a pre-existing skin condition like eczema or psoriasis.

However, cellulitis can also occur in areas without any visible skin damage.

Woman with a leg injury
The infection occurs when bacteria enters through the skin, often through a wound.(Unsplash: Rawpixel)

While the bacterial infection can’t always be prevented, a common cause of infection is via the fingernails.

“Handwashing is very important as well as keeping good care of your nails by trimming and cleaning them,” noted healthdirect.

“Generally, maintaining good hygiene such as daily showering and wearing clean clothes may help reduce the skin’s contact with bacteria.”

How serious is it?

While cellulitis is treatable with a course of oral antibiotics, in more serious cases, antibiotics may need to be administered intravenously in hospital.

And without any medical attention, the condition can prove dangerous.

When bacteria from cellulitis spreads into the bloodstream, it can lead to sepsis — a serious blood infection capable of causing organ failure and death.

A blister pack of the antibiotic Doxycycline, which is used to treat a range of conditions from acne to cholera.
Cellulitis is usually treatable with a course of oral antibiotics (file photo).(Teka77)

“People with cellulitis can quickly become very unwell and a small number of people may develop serious complications,” advised healthdirect.

However, it should be noted that in most cases, patients respond to antibiotics in “two to three days and begin to show improvement”.

So how do I avoid it?

It’s not known how or where Mr Hunt may have developed the bacterial infection.

But while cellulitis is “not generally contagious”, there are ways to reduce your risk.

In addition to handwashing and paying attention to hygiene, it’s recommended that those more susceptible to the condition should:


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