Classification and external resources
Erysipelas of the face due to invasive Streptococcus.
ICD-10 A46.x
ICD-9 035
DiseasesDB 4428
MedlinePlus 000618
eMedicine derm/129
MeSH D004886

Erysipelas (; Greek ἐρυσίπελας—red skin; also known as "Ignis sacer", "holy fire", and "St. Anthony's fire"[1] in some countries) is an acute (non-chronic) infection[2] typically with a skin rash, usually on any of the legs and toes, face, arms and fingers, and in medical terms an infection of the upper dermis and superficial lymphatics, usually caused by streptococcus bacteria on scratches or otherwise infected areas.[3] Erysipelas is more superficial than cellulitis, and is typically more raised and demarcated.[4]


  • Signs and symptoms 1
  • Cause 2
    • Risk factors 2.1
  • Diagnosis 3
  • Treatment 4
  • Prognosis 5
  • Notable Deaths 6
  • Other animals 7
  • See also 8
  • Footnotes 9
  • External links 10

Signs and symptoms

Erysipelas on an arm
Erysipelas on a leg

Patients typically develop symptoms including high fevers, shaking, chills, fatigue, headaches, vomiting, and general illness within 48 hours of the initial infection. The erythematous skin lesion enlarges rapidly and has a sharply demarcated raised edge. It appears as a red, swollen, warm, hardened and painful rash, similar in consistency to an orange peel. More severe infections can result in vesicles (pox or insect bite-like marks), bullae (blisters), and petechiae (small purple or red spots), with possible skin necrosis (skin death). Lymph nodes may be swollen, and lymphedema may occur. Occasionally, a red streak extending to the lymph node can be seen.

The infection may occur on any part of the skin including the face, arms, fingers, legs and toes, but it tends to favour the extremities. Fat tissue is most susceptible to infection, and facial areas typically around the eyes, ears, and cheeks. Repeated infection of the extremities can lead to chronic swelling (lymphangitis).


Most cases of erysipelas are due to Streptococcus pyogenes (also known as beta-hemolytic group A streptococci), although non-group A streptococci can also be the causative agent. Beta-hemolytic, non-group A streptococci include Streptococcus agalactiae, also known as group B strep or GBS. Historically, the face was most affected; today the legs are affected most often.[5] The rash is due to an exotoxin, not the Strep. Bacteria itself and is found in areas where no symptoms are present - e.g. the infection may be in the nasopharynx, but the rash is found usually on the face and arms.

Erysipelas infections can enter the skin through minor trauma, insect bites, dog bites, eczema, athlete's foot, surgical incisions and ulcers, and often originate from strep bacteria in the subject's own nasal passages. Infection sets in after a small scratch or abrasion spreads resulting in toxaemia.

Erysipelas does not affect subcutaneous tissue. It does not release pus, only serum or serous fluid. Subcutaneous edema may lead the physician to misdiagnose it as cellulitis, but the style of the rash is much more well circumscribed and sharply marginated than the rash of cellulitis.

Risk factors

This disease is most common among the elderly, infants, and children. People with immune deficiency, diabetes, alcoholism, skin ulceration, fungal infections and impaired lymphatic drainage (e.g., after mastectomy, pelvic surgery, bypass grafting) are also at increased risk.


This disease is diagnosed mainly by the appearance of well-demarcated rash and inflammation. Blood cultures are unreliable for diagnosis of the disease, but may be used to test for sepsis. Erysipelas must be differentiated from herpes zoster, angioedema, contact dermatitis, and diffuse inflammatory carcinoma of the breast.

Erysipelas can be distinguished from cellulitis by its raised advancing edges and sharp borders. Elevation of the antistreptolysin O (ASO) titer occurs after around 10 days of illness.


Depending on the severity, treatment involves either oral or intravenous antibiotics, using penicillins, clindamycin or erythromycin. While illness symptoms resolve in a day or two, the skin may take weeks to return to normal.

Because of the risk of reinfection, prophylactic antibiotics are sometimes used after resolution of the initial condition. However, this approach does not always stop reinfection.[6]


  • Spread of infection to other areas of body through the bloodstream (bacteremia), including septic arthritis. Glomerulonephritis can follow from a streptococcal erysipelas or other skin infection, but not rheumatic fever.
  • Recurrence of infection—Erysipelas can recur in 18–30% of cases even after antibiotic treatment.
  • Lymphatic damage
  • Necrotizing fasciitis—commonly known as "the flesh-eating bug". A potentially deadly exacerbation of the infection if it spreads to deeper tissue.

Notable Deaths

Richard Wagner also suffered from erysipelas, although he died of a heart attack.

Other animals

Erysipelas is also the name given to an infection in animals caused by the bacterium Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae. Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae can also infect humans, but in that case the infection is known as erysipeloid.

See also


  1. ^ James, William D.; Berger, Timothy G.; et al. (2006). Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: clinical Dermatology. Saunders Elsevier. p. 260.  
  2. ^ "erysipelas" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  3. ^ Krasagakis K, Samonis G, Maniatakis P, Georgala S, Tosca A (2006). "Bullous erysipelas: clinical presentation, staphylococcal involvement and methicillin resistance". Dermatology 212 (1): 31–5.  
  4. ^ Bisno AL, Stevens DL (January 1996). "Streptococcal infections of skin and soft tissues". The New England Journal of Medicine 334 (4): 240–5.  
  5. ^ See eMedicine link
  6. ^ Koster JB, Kullberg BJ, van der Meer JW (March 2007). "Recurrent erysipelas despite antibiotic prophylaxis: an analysis from case studies". The Netherlands Journal of Medicine 65 (3): 89–94.  
  7. ^ Wollenweber, Brother Leo (2002). "Meet Solanus Casey". St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, page 107, ISBN 1-56955-281-9,
  8. ^ America the Beautiful by Lynn Sherr
  9. ^ Green, Elizabeth Alden (1979). Mary Lyon and Mount Holyoke. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England. p. 310.  
  10. ^ Capaldi, Nicholas (2004). John Stuart Mill: a biography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 356.  
  11. ^ Møller, Jan (1994). Frederik 7. En kongeskæbne. Copenhagen: Aschehoug Dansk Forlag. p. 235.  
  12. ^ Ridley, Jane (2013). The Heir Apparent: a life of Edward VII, the Crown Prince. New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC. p. 287. 

External links

  • Erysipelas Overview Health in Plain English - with pictures
  • Cellulitis Treatment for Skin Infection - Without Pictures