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Can You Get Cellulitis from Shooting Up?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 21, 2024

Table of Contents

For those wondering, “Can you get cellulitis from shooting up,” cellulitis infection from shooting up is a significant danger associated with IV (intravenous) drug abuse. If not promptly treated, cellulitis may spread throughout the body. Various substances are misused through IV injection, including:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Meth
  • Prescription opioids
  • Fentanyl

Drug addiction (substance use disorder) often develops in those who use addictive substances regularly. Addiction is the result of consistent substance abuse, which significantly heightens the likelihood of infections and autoimmune issues.

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While adhering to safe injection practices cannot completely eliminate risks, it can offer some sense of security. The addictive nature of the drugs involved can make quitting a formidable challenge. If you’re wondering, “Can you get cellulitis from shooting up”, the following factors may contribute to the development of the condition in those who use drugs intravenously:

  • Poor skin hygiene: Neglecting to clean or care for the skin can create an environment conducive to the development of harmful bacteria. When a needle pierces the skin during IV injection, any bacteria present can be introduced into the body.
  • Type of drugs used: The choice of drugs matters. Some substances – heroin and cocaine, for instance – elevate the risk of infection due to their impact on the immune system and overall health.
  • Needle sharing or reuse: Sharing or reusing needles with others significantly increases the risk of infection transmission, as it exposes individuals to potentially contaminated equipment.

Understanding these risk factors can help prevent intravenous drug abuse and minimize the associated health risks, including cellulitis.

What is Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Cellulitis is a result of bacteria like staphylococcus or streptococcus that penetrate the skin via a cut, wound, or even dry and cracked skin. Once inside, the bacteria multiply and cause an infection characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Redness: The affected area typically becomes red and inflamed.
  • Swelling: Swelling and warmth in the infected area are common.
  • Pain: Cellulitis is often accompanied by pain or tenderness at the site of infection.
  • Fever: In some cases, individuals with cellulitis may develop a fever.
  • Skin changes: The skin may become tight, shiny, and stretched over the affected area.
  • Pus or drainage: In more severe cases, there may be pus or other types of discharge from the site of infection.

Cellulitis may occur throughout the body but is most common in the lower legs and face. While it is generally treatable with antibiotics when diagnosed early, cellulitis can lead to serious complications when untreated, such as the spread of infection to deeper tissues or the bloodstream.

Seek medical attention if you suspect that you have cellulitis or if you notice any signs of infection on your skin, especially if you have a weakened immune system or underlying health conditions. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing complications and promoting a swift recovery.

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Dangers of Cellulitis

Although cellulitis is a treatable condition, it can pose several dangers and complications if not promptly addressed:

  • Infection spread: If left untreated, cellulitis can extend beyond the initial site of infection, spreading to nearby tissues or even into the bloodstream. When bacteria enter the bloodstream, it can lead to a condition known as sepsis, which is a life-threatening medical emergency.
  • Abscess formation: In some cases, cellulitis may progress to the formation of an abscess, which is a pocket of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue. Abscesses often require drainage in addition to antibiotic treatment.
  • Recurrence: Those who have had cellulitis in the past are at a higher risk of experiencing recurrent episodes. Repeated cellulitis infections can lead to scarring and long-term skin damage.
  • Chronic cellulitis: In some instances, cellulitis can become chronic, with frequent or persistent flare-ups. This can be challenging to manage and may require ongoing medical attention.
  • Compromised lymphatic system: Cellulitis in the lower limbs can damage the lymphatic system, potentially causing lymphedema, a condition characterized by swelling and a compromised ability to drain lymph fluid.
  • Secondary infections: Scratching or picking at the affected area can introduce new bacteria and lead to secondary infections, further complicating the condition.
  • Cellulitis with underlying health issues: People with weakened immune systems, diabetes, or other underlying health conditions are at increased risk of severe cellulitis and its complications.

Take cellulitis seriously and seek medical treatment as soon as possible if you suspect an infection. Early intervention with antibiotics will prevent the spread of infection and minimize the associated risks. Additionally, individuals at higher risk of cellulitis should take preventive measures, such as proper wound care and hygiene, to reduce their susceptibility to this condition.


What triggers cellulitis?

Cellulitis is typically triggered by bacteria, often streptococcus or staphylococcus, entering the skin through a cut, wound, insect bite, or even dry, cracked skin. Other risk factors include diabetes, compromised immune system, and prior episodes of cellulitis.

Can you get staph infection from shooting up?

Yes, injecting drugs with contaminated needles or in unhygienic conditions can increase the risk of contracting a staph infection, as well as other serious infections like cellulitis and endocarditis.

What is a cellulitis infection in an IV site?

Cellulitis in an IV site occurs when bacteria enter the skin or tissue around the intravenous catheter. It can lead to redness, swelling, and pain at the insertion point and may spread and become a more serious infection if not treated properly.

What is the fastest way to get rid of cellulitis?

Cellulitis treatment normally involves antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare professional. While there is no fast way to get rid of cellulitis, prompt medical attention, taking antibiotics as directed, and keeping the affected area elevated can help speed up the healing process and prevent complications.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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