Cutaneous manifestations of bacterial sepsis.

In short, bacterial sepsis is associated with a number of peripheral manifestations involving the skin and soft tissues. The pathogenesis of the lesions observed is not fully understood and is almost certainly multifactorial. In ecthyma gangrenosum, the presence of large numbers of gram-negative bacilli in the walls of small blood vessels without a substantial inflammatory response suggests that either the bacteria themselves or bacterial products are responsible for tissue damage. Endotoxin probably plays a prominent role in producing these lesions. That Pseudomonas and Aeromonas species seem to cause ecthyma out of proportion to their prevalence as a cause of bacteremia might suggest that the endotoxin of these organisms has a special predilection for skin and subcutaneous structures. More likely, it indicates that other bacterial substances, such as exotoxins or proteases, are involved. The absence of PMN leukocytes is thought to play a permissive role, allowing unopposed bacterial proliferation. Lesions of symmetric peripheral gangrene characteristically do not have bacteria present. The presence of intravascular fibrin accumulation probably resembles the generalized Shwartzman phenomenon. However, the gangrenous lesions themselves more likely result from systemic hypotension and the resulting hypoperfusion of the tissues than from vessel obstruction. In lesions associated with vigorous inflammatory response, bacterial products may damage tissue either directly or by attracting leukocytes that, in turn, release substances that cause further tissue damage. An etiologic role for endotoxin or the gram-positive bacterial cell wall is likely, since endotoxin is known to produce similar lesions in the localized Shwartzman reaction. Favoring a role for other bacterial substances is the predisposition of V. vulnificus to cause cellulitis or of C. fetus to cause inflammation of the major vessels during sepsis; the mechanisms for these reactions are entirely unknown. It is interesting that in most instances in which peripheral lesions are caused by sepsis, either a large number of bacteria or an intense inflammatory response by PMNs is present, but not both. In both kinds of lesion, the tendency to involve blood vessels by different pathogenetic mechanisms contributes to the evolution of the disease process. In intensely inflamed lesions, veins and arteries can be shown histologically to be occluded. In the absence of inflammation, bacterial invasion of vessel walls or simply the presence of bacterial products adjacent to the vessel may produce spasm. As noted, the pathogenetic significance of thrombosis observed in the lesions of DIC remains unclear.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
AuthorsD M Musher
JournalHospital practice (Office ed.) (Hosp Pract (Off Ed)) Vol. 24 Issue 5 Pg. 71-5, 80-2, 92 passim (May 15 1989) ISSN: 8750-2836 [Print] UNITED STATES
PMID2523895 (Publication Type: Journal Article)
  • Ecthyma (etiology)
  • Gangrene (etiology)
  • Gas Gangrene (etiology)
  • Humans
  • Immune Complex Diseases (etiology)
  • Necrosis
  • Purpura (etiology)
  • Scarlet Fever (etiology)
  • Sepsis (complications)
  • Skin Diseases (etiology)
  • Staphylococcal Infections (complications)
  • Streptococcal Infections (complications)

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