Necrotizing infection of the extremity is a rare but potentially lethal diagnosis with a mortality rate in the range of 17% to 35%.1-4 The plastic surgery service at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center (MRVAMC) treats all hand emergencies, including upper extremity infection, in the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Heath System. There has been a well-coordinated emergency hand care system in place for several years that includes specialty templates on the electronic health record, pre-existing urgent clinic appointments, and single service surgical specialty care.5 This facilitates a fluid line of communication between primary care, emergency department (ED) providers, and surgical specialties. The objective of the study was to evaluate our identification, treatment, and outcome of these serious infections.
The MRVAMC Institutional Review Board approved a retrospective review of necrotizing infection of the upper extremity treated at the facility by the plastic surgery service. Surgical cases over a 9-year period (June 5, 2008-June 5, 2017) were identified by CPT (current procedural technology) codes for amputation and/or debridement of the upper extremity. The charts were reviewed for evidence of necrotizing infection by clinical description or pathology report. The patients’ age, sex, etiology, comorbidities from their problem list, vitals, and laboratory results were recorded upon arrival at the hospital. Time from presentation to surgery, treatment, and outcomes were recorded.
Ten patients were treated for necrotizing infection of the upper extremity over a 9-year period; all were men with an average age of 64 years. Etiologies included nail biting, “bug bites,” crush injuries, burns, suspected IV drug use, and unknown. Nine of 10 patients had diabetes mellitus (DM). Most did not show evidence of hemodynamic instability on hospital arrival (Table). One patient was hypotensive with a mean arterial blood pressure < 65 mm Hg, 2 had heart rates > 100 beats/min, 1 patient had a temperature > 38° C, and 7 had elevated white blood cell (WBC) counts ranging from 11 to 24 k/cmm. Two undiagnosed patients with DM (patients 1 and 8) expressed no complaints of pain and presented with blood glucose > 450 mg/dL with hemoglobin A1c levels > 12%.
Infectious disease and critical care services were involved in the treatment of several cases when requested. A computed tomography (CT) scan was used in 2 of the patients (patients 1 and 4) to assist in the diagnosis (Figure 1).
Seven patients out of 10 were treated with surgery within 24 hours on hospital arrival. The severity of the pathology was not initially recognized in 2 of the patients earlier in the review. A third patient resisted surgical treatment until the second hospital day. Four patients had from 1 to 3 digital amputations, 2 patients had wrist disarticulations, and 1 had a distal forearm amputation.
Antibiotics were managed by critical care, hospitalist, or infectious disease services and adjusted once final cultures were returned (Table).