Gas Gangrene and Necrotizing Fasciitis in the Upper Extremity


Necrotizing soft tissue infections encompass a wide variety of clinical syndromes resulting from
introduction of various pathogens into injured or devitalized tissue. The extent of microbial involvement in such tissue may range from simple contamination to overt and progressive local tissue necrosis, which, if untreated, may lead to septicemia and death. Early differentiation among these infections is not always possible, as there are overlapping classification criteria. These infections exist along a continuum of clinical severity with different etiological agents and associated medical cond itions. The often subtle clues heralding the presence of a necrotizing soft tissue infection must be sought so that expeditious surgical debridement and broad-spectrum antibiotic management are initiated. Although experience enables the clinician to make a specific diagnosis based on early findings, aggressive and proper treatment of suspected infections remains the priority. The purpose of the article is to provide an overview of necrotizing soft tissue infections in the upper extremity, focusing on gas gangrene, or clostridial myonecrosis, and necrotizing fasciitis, to facilitate early diagnosis and optimal management of these lethal diseases. (Journal of Surgical Orthopaedic Advances 13(2):57–68, 2004)

Betsy N. Perry, MD, and Waldo E. Floyd III, MD