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erysipelas

erysipelas

[er-uh-sip-uh-luhs, eer-uh-]
erysipelas, acute infection of the skin characterized by a sharply demarcated, shiny red swelling, accompanied by high fever and a feeling of general illness. The causative agent is the hemolytic streptococcus, which often enters the body through a break in the skin. Erysipelas affects the skin of the face so frequently that when it strikes other parts of the body, it may often be misdiagnosed. Bacteremia (blood poisoning) and pneumonia are the most common complications. Erysipelas is a highly contagious disease that was formerly dangerous to life; however, it can now be quickly controlled by antibiotic therapy.
Erysipelas (Greek ερυσίπελας - red skin) is an acute streptococcus bacterial infection of the dermis, resulting in inflammation and characteristically extending into underlying fat tissue.

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.

Signs and symptoms

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, bullae, and petechiae, with possible skin necrosis. 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 favor 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 (lymphadenitis).

Etiology

Most cases of erysipelas are due to Streptococcus pyogenes (also known as group A streptococci), although non-group A streptococci can also be the causative agent. Historically, the face was most affected; today the legs are affected most often.

Erysipelas infections can enter the skin through minor trauma, eczema, surgical incisions and ulcers, and often originate from strep bacteria in the subject's own nasal passages.

Diagnosis

This disease is mainly diagnosed 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 titre occurs after around 10 days of illness.

Treatment

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.

Complications

  • Spread of infection to other areas of body through the bloodstream (bacteremia), including septic arthritis and infective endocarditis (heart valves).
  • Septic shock.
  • Recurrence of infection – Erysipelas can recur in 18-30% of cases even after antibiotic treatment.
  • Lymphatic damage
  • Necrotizing fasciitis -- AKA "the flesh-eating bug." A potentially-deadly exacerbation of the infection if it spreads to deeper tissue.

Deaths

In animals

Erysipelas is also the name given to an infection in animals caused by the bacterium Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae. Infection by Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae in humans is a separate entity known as erysipeloid.

Footnotes

External links

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