To assess factors that might predict serious necrotizing soft tissue infections following illicit drug injection.
A retrospective review of a consecutive case series.
An urban municipal hospital.
Thirty patients presenting with cutaneous abscesses resulting from illicit drug injections during a 5-year period. All cases presented clinically with fluctuance, erythema, or induration but required extensive debridement at the time of incision and drainage.
Operative treatment employed wide incision, routine subfascial examination, and aggressive debridement. Clinical management included broad-spectrum antibiotics, critical care support, and reconstructive procedures.
Main Outcome Measures
Mortality, extent of debridement, preoperative vital signs and laboratory values, Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II (APACHE II) scores, bacteriologic and pathologic test results.
Postoperatively, all patients were housed in the intensive care unit for 8.4±14.5 days. Six patients died (20%). On arrival at the intensive care unit, systolic blood pressure was 80 mm Hg or less in 2 patients, 1 of whom died. White blood cell count on hospital admission was elevated in 27 of 30 patients (mean, 27.2±15.3×109/L) and 2 patients were identified as having human immunodeficiency virus infection. All patients underwent initial surgery less than 24 hours after admission; following debridement, the average wound size was 276±238 cm2 (range, 15-783 cm2). Five patients required extremity amputation, and all other survivors underwent reconstruction with skin grafts and/or myocutaneous flaps. All but 1 patient were reexamined in the operating room within 12 hours and underwent an average of 3.1±1.6 operative procedures. Of those wound cultures obtained in the operating room, there was no pattern to the bacteriologic isolates. Seventeen patients had mixed isolates and 11 had single organisms. Pathologic findings in 20 patients included panniculitis (3 patients), necrotizing fasciitis (11 patients), myositis (6 patients), and osteomyelitis (1 patient). We failed to identify any clinical factor, including temperature, heart rate, systolic blood pressure, white blood cell count, base deficit, albumin level, PO2, or APACHE II score that could predict mortality or the requirement for extensive debridement.
Parenteral injections of illicit drugs can produce infections that present with signs of simple cutaneous abscess and yet unpredictably become extensive necrotizing soft tissue infections. Treatment requires a high index of suspicion along with an inquisitive operative approach to avoid missing these potentially serious infections.