This is the first reported case of Fournier’s gangrene (FG) as a rare complication of Sweet’s syndrome (SS) (Choi et al, 2017).
A 31-year-old woman was admitted to hospital with a 7 day history of itchy, red skin lesions of various sizes all over her body. She also had a fever, and blood tests showed a raised erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP), indicating inflammation in the body. A procalcitonin test was given to determine whether or not she had developed sepsis – a rare, life-threatening complication of infection, that can occur when chemicals that the immune system releases into the bloodstream to fight infection end up causing inflammation throughout the entire body. In this case, the procalcitonin test result was normal. A skin biopsy of a lesion showed white blood cells called neutrophils in the tissues and damage to the vessels caused by neutrophils releasing noxious substances. The former was indicative of SS. The patient was treated with high dose steroids for 5 days, which she responded well to.
Three days after being discharged, the patient returned to hospital, having developed a painful 2 cm-sized lesion and swelling on her buttock. The drainage from this area had the odour of rotten fish and looked like greenish pus. An X-ray of the area did not show anything unusual, but computed tomography (CT) scan showed that gas had entered the gluteus maximus muscle layer. This is because infection can result in gas in the soft tissues. Bacterial culture showed the presence of several bacteria: Streptococcus anginosus, Pseudomonas, and Clostridium. The patient was eventually diagnosed with FG, and treated with wound debridement (surgical removal of dead tissue) and antibiotics. Two months later, the buttock lesion was completely healed.
What is Fournier’s gangrene?
FG is a rapidly progressive necrotizing fasciitis (NF) that affects the perineal, genital and perianal regions. NF is a rare and serious bacterial infection that affects the superficial fascia – a layer of connective tissue that lies beneath the skin and between the muscles and organs in the body. FG usually develops secondary to other perirectal or periurethral infections, and the main form of treatment is wound debridement and broad-spectrum intravenous antibiotics (Bracho-Riquelme, 2017; Choi et al, 2017).
Some additional & key points.
- FG most commonly affects those with a weakened immune system (Choi et al, 2017). This includes those with a weakened immune system as a result of taking medications that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants), e.g. the steroid, prednisone.
- FG can be confused with the conditions erythema multiforme, erythema nodosum, leukocytoclastic vasculitis, or cellulitis.
- CT scan is an important diagnostic tool in FG, and can detect the presence of soft tissue air.
- Early aggressive wound debridement and antibiotics are vital in the treatment of FG.
- Doctors should consider the possibility of FG when a SS patient who takes immunosuppressants, develops painful lesions on the perianal and perineal area (Ibid).
- FG or NF should not be confused with the rare SS variant, necrotizing Sweet’s syndrome (NSS). This variant mimics NF, and the main form of treatment is high-dose steroids. Antibiotics do not work in the treatment of NSS, and wound debridement must be avoided as it can lead to the development of new lesions.
Bracho-Riquelme, R. (2017) Fournier Gangrene. NORD: National Organization for Rare Disorders (online). Rodolfo L. Bracho-Riquelme, MD, is a general and colorectal surgeon at Hospital General de Durango, Mexico. Accessed 6/06/17.
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