Ecthyma gangrenosum

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Ecthyma gangrenosum
Ecthyma gangrenosum
SpecialtyInfectious diseases, dermatology

Ecthyma gangrenosum is a type of ecthyma associated with Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteremia.[1] It is characterized by blood filled vesicles or blisters which rapidly evolve into pustules and necrotic ulcers with painful red borders.[2]

"Ecthyma" means a pus forming infection of the skin with an ulcer, "gangrenosum" refers to the accompanying gangrene or necrosis. It is classically associated with Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteremia, but it is not pathognomonic.[3] Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a gram negative, aerobic bacillus.[4] It mostly occurs in patients with underlying immunocompromise (e.g. malignancy or HIV). Although most cases are due to Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection, there are recent reports of this skin lesion in association with other microorganisms, such as Escherichia coli, Citrobacter freundii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, various other Pseudomonas species, and Morganella morganii.[5]

It was first described in association with Pseudomonas aeruginosa by L. Barker in 1897.[5] It was given the name "ecthyma gangrenosum" by Hitschmann and Kreibich.[6]

Signs and symptoms

The primary skin lesion usually starts with a macule that is painless, round and erythematous. Then, it develops into a pustule, and then a bulla with central hemorrhagic focus. The bulla progresses into an ulcer which extends laterally. Finally it becomes a gangrenous ulcer with a central black eschar surrounded by an erythematous halo.[6]

The lesions may be single or multiple. They are most commonly seen in perineum and under arm pit. However, they can occur in any part of the body.[6]


The organism enters directly through the breakdown of mechanical defense barriers such as mucosa or skin. Conditions which lead to the development of an immunocompromised state make the patient more susceptible to ecthyma gangrenosum and sepsis.[6] In case of sepsis, the bacteria reaches the skin via the bloodstream. Defective humoral or cellular immunity increases risk, as the organism is not cleared from the bloodstream as usual. The main mechanism of the organism that is causing the typical skin lesions is the invasion of the organism into the arteries and veins in the dermis and subcutaneous tissues of the skin. This perivascular invasion leads to nodular formation, ulceration, vasculitis and necrosis due to impaired blood supply. Perivascular involvement is achieved by direct entry of bacteria through the skin or hematogenous spreading in case of sepsis.[6]


Diagnosis is made by clinical observation and the following tests.[citation needed]

(1) Gram stain of the fluid from pustules or bullae, and tissue swab.

(2) Blood culture

(3) Urine culture

(4) Skin biopsy

(5) Tissue culture

Magnetic resonance imaging can be done in case of ecthyma gangrenosum of plantar foot to differentiate from necrotizing fasciitis.[6]


The main organism associated with ecthyma gangrenosum is Pseudomonas aeruginosa. However, multi-bacterial cases are reported as well. Prevention measures include practicing proper hygiene, educating the immunocompromised patients for awareness to avoid possible conditions and seek timely medical treatment.[6]


Treatments involve antibiotics that cover for Pseudomonas aeruginosa. antipseudomonal penicillins, aminoglycosides, fluoroquinolones, third generation cephalosporins or aztreonam can be given. Usually, the antibiotics are changed according to the culture and sensitivity result.[6] In patients with very low white blood cell counts, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor may be given. Depending on the causal agents, antivirals or antifungals can be added.[6]

Surgery will be needed if there is extensive necrosis not responding to medical treatments.[citation needed]

Recent research

A recent retrospective study of all cases of ecthyma gangrenosum from 2004–2010 in a university hospital in Mexico shows that neutropenia in immunocompromised patients is the most common risk factor for ecthyma gangrenosum.[7]


  1. "Ecthyma (including ecthyma gangrenosum)". Primary Care Dermatology Society. 22 November 2021. Archived from the original on 14 February 2020. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  2. James, William D.; Elston, Dirk; Treat, James R.; Rosenbach, Misha A.; Neuhaus, Isaac (2020). "14. Bacterial infections". Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology (13th ed.). Edinburgh: Elsevier. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-323-54753-6. Archived from the original on 2023-06-30. Retrieved 2023-06-01.
  3. Reich, Hilary L. "Nonpseudomonal ecthyma gangrenosum". Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 50 (5): 114. PMID 15097944. Archived from the original on 29 August 2021. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  4. Koo, Su Han; Lee, Joon Ho; Shin, Heakyeong; Lee, Jong Im (2012-11-14). "Ecthyma Gangrenosum in a Previously Healthy Infant". Archives of Plastic Surgery. 39 (6): 673–5. doi:10.5999/aps.2012.39.6.673. ISSN 2234-6163. PMC 3518017. PMID 23233899.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Vaiman, M.; Lazarovitch, T.; Heller, L.; Lotan, G. (2015-04-01). "Ecthyma gangrenosum and ecthyma-like lesions: review article". European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. 34 (4): 633–639. doi:10.1007/s10096-014-2277-6. ISSN 0934-9723. PMID 25407372.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Kingsberry, M. (2017). "Ecthyma gangrenosum: Overview". Medscape. Archived from the original on 2021-03-05. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  7. Martínez-Longoria, César Adrián; Rosales-Solis, Gloria María; Ocampo-Garza, Jorge; Guerrero-González, Guillermo Antonio; Ocampo-Candiani, Jorge (October 2017). "Ecthyma gangrenosum: a report of eight cases". Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 92 (5): 698–700. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20175580. ISSN 0365-0596. PMC 5674706. PMID 29166510.

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