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[Histopathological study of Mycobacterium marinum infection].

INTRODUCTION: Skin infection by Mycobacterium marinum induces the classic granuloma of aquariums and swimming pools. The histopathological signs have been described primarily in small series of typical cases, generally with no bacteriological evidence. In a national survey of proven infection with M. marinum detailed data was collected for 63 patients. The aim of this new study was to describe microscopic signs of the infection based upon biopsies taken from these patients.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: Unstained slides from 32 biopsies of the skin (n=24) or synovial biopsies (n=8) were prepared; they originated from 27 patients. They were examined after standard staining and after Ziehl-Neelsen staining, without knowledge of the clinical data.

RESULTS: All biopsies were taken from the upper limb of 18 men and nine women of mean age 48 years. Tubercular granulomas were observed in only 60% of cases. The largest and most numerous were seen in the synovial samples. Due to their palisade appearance, they were occasionally impossible to distinguish from rheumatoid nodules. In 20% of cases, neutrophil collections were seen without granulomas and in remaining 20% of cases, relatively non-specific infiltrate was observed. Epidermal changes consisted in psoriasiform or pseudocarcinomatous hyperplasia, particularly at the edges of ulcerated areas; invasion of the dermo-epidermal junction was seen in five cases. Follicular necrosis was observed in four cases with lymphoplasmacytic infiltrates remote from the granulomas being seen in 22 biopsies. Ziehl-Neelsen staining revealed no bacilli.

DISCUSSION: The originality of this series consists of bacteriological proof of M. marinum infection and the absence of biopsy selection based on clinical criteria. It shows that the typical granulomas are in fact present in less than two third of cases, and that these may be confused with rheumatoid nodules. The chief characteristic of these lesions is the very low concentration of microorganisms present, in contrast with other forms of mycobacterium, making them difficult to see; routine confirmation cannot thus be expected from specific staining procedures. In one case out of five, the infiltrate suggested no infectious origin, although deep skin biopsies and synovial biopsies provided more information. For all forms of necrotic granuloma, whether or not accompanied by collections of neutrophils, a culture should be carried out in a specific medium, even in the absence of microscopic evidence of bacilli.

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