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Epidemiology of bacterial hand infections

Shirzad Houshian, Sedigheh Seyedipour, Niels Wedderkopp
International Journal of Infectious Diseases: IJID 2006, 10 (4): 315-9

OBJECTIVE: The aim of the study was to delineate and update the bacteriological spectrum, characterize patterns and sites of injury, evaluate laboratory tests and possible causes of complications in patients with bacterial hand infections.

METHODS: All hand infections operated on in the department of orthopedics at Odense University Hospital during the period 1992-2001 were reviewed retrospectively. A standard protocol was used to collect data for each patient. We also examined all laboratory reports and recorded the identity of the etiologic organism, if known, for all cases of bacterial hand infections.

RESULTS: Four hundred and eighteen patients (296 men and 122 women) with hand infections were operated on between 1992 and 2001 in our department. The median age of the patients was 40 years (range 1-93). The average interval from primary injury to operation was 10 days (range 1-50). The etiology was laceration/puncture in 35%. The site of infection was subcutaneous in 45% followed by tendon, joint and bone in 27, 18 and 5%, respectively. The bacteria isolated from the patients showed that 184 cultures (44%) were pure Staphylococcus aureus followed by 49 cultures (11.7%) of mixed organisms. Body temperature and C-reactive protein (CRP) were normal in three quarters of all patients with hand infections in our series. However the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) was elevated in 50% of the patients and was a significantly better test for infection in this study than CRP (p = 0.002). Neither the severity of infection nor the etiology of infection was related in any way to the initial temperature, CRP or ESR in this study. Complications were noted in 14.8% of all patients, and were especially related to diabetes, and mixed infection.

CONCLUSION: Despite modern antibiotics, hand infections with a variety of organisms continue to be a source of morbidity and possible long-term disability. Most hand infections are the result of minor wounds that have been neglected. A complete history and physical examination is necessary to exclude other associated medical conditions (diabetes, arthritis, immunosuppression) that may compromise therapy. Furthermore, our study confirms that Staphylococcus aureus is responsible for most instances of hand infection, followed by mixed organisms. Gram-negative organisms are frequently cultured in patients with diabetes and intravenous drug abuse.

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