Physical exam is notable for BP 120/67, pulse 75, respirations 14, temperature 37.5° C, and weight 130 lbs. She appears disheveled and has poor dentition. She has a supple neck with full range of motion and no palpable lymphadenopathy. Her chest is clear to auscultation, and her cardiac exam reveals a regular rate and rhythm, normal S1 and S2, and no cardiac murmurs, rubs, or gallops. Her abdomen is soft, nontender with normoactive bowel sounds and no hepatosplenomegaly. Her extremities show no cyanosis, clubbing or edema. Skin examination is notable for two small 2.5 cm abscesses on the dorsum of her left hand and two similar areas on the left inner thigh. She has a 6 x 8 cm sacral abscess, with erythema surrounding induration and some oozing of thick yellow fluid. There are no vesicular lesions. Her neurological exam is nonfocal.
Answer: A bacterial culture of the oozing fluid from the sacral abscess would be helpful since this is a new visit for this inmate with a new skin/soft tissue infection. This infection could be due to a variety of organisms, including community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The susceptibility pattern for this organism had not been well established at the facility where she is incarcerated. If the patient appeared systemically ill with fever, chills, chest pain, cough, dyspnea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or weight loss, then bacterial blood cultures, a complete blood count, and a chest x-ray should also be obtained. One could also consider performing a ppd if any question of tuberculosis is considered.
Q: What treatment(s) should you offer this inmate?
A: There are two important treatments to consider: antibiotics and surgical debridement. In general, empiric oral antimicrobial therapy to cover common skin/soft tissue organisms, such as Streptococcus and Staphylococcus, including MRSA, should be given pending final culture results or based on a known antibiogram within the institution, indicating known resistance patterns for MRSA. Antibiotics are not always needed if the infection is localized and good wound care is available. In this patient with advanced HIV disease, multiple abscesses, and a history of not adequately caring for herself, it is prudent to offer oral antimicrobial therapy. Once the isolate's final susceptibility pattern is known, therapy can be tailored. Unlike hospital-acquired MRSA strains, which are usually resistant to multiple antibiotics, community-acquired (CA) MRSA strains are often resistant only to beta-lactam antibiotics. Thus, the empiric regimen might include agents such as trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, doxycycline, or clindamycin, with or without rifampin. Rifampin monotherapy is NOT recommended, as resistance to this agent can evolve rapidly. Ideally, empiric therapy should be based on institutional resistance patterns for MRSA, if known. In the setting of an MRSA outbreak within a facility, all cases do not require a culture, if the outbreak is well defined with a known established susceptibility pattern for the etiologic isolate. The addition of rifampin for improved clinical response is often reserved for patients with recurrent infections or serious infections in which bone, blood, hardware, and/or deep tissue (i.e., fasciitis) is involved. Surgical debridement is usually reserved for deep infections and/or infections with associated fluctuance that are not draining adequately. Although this inmate had a fairly large sacral abscess, it was open and draining well without areas of fluctuance or devitalized tissue. Therefore, no surgical debridement was required. Depending on the sophistication of the facility, this patient could be managed with outpatient care with wound dressing changes and monitoring of medication in the prison/jail clinic at regular intervals, as opposed to referral to an outpatient care clinic at a local hospital or to an infectious disease clinic in the community. Whether or not the inmate took her medications on pill line as opposed to "keeping on person" is an individual decision that should be made by the provider, keeping the extent of disease, the compliance of the inmate, and the level of understanding of the problem by the inmate in mind. One last point is that this inmate should be re-examined after the lesions have cleared to be sure a cyst (e.g., pilonidal) was not missed and predisposed her to this infection.
Q: What infection-control measures, if any, should you recommend?
A: Personal hygiene and environmental sanitation practices are critical. Wound dressings must be performed with strict attention to contact precautions. Frequent hand washing, daily bathing, and proper towel hygiene should be emphasized as discussed in detail in the spotlight on MRSA article in this issue of HEPP Report. If inmates and staff understand how CA-MRSA is transmitted, then infection control efforts are more likely to be successful.
Bethany Weaver, D.O., M.P.H., is Acting Instructor of Medicine at University of Washington Center for AIDS & STD Research (CFAR) and Northwest Correctional Medicine Education Program. Disclosures: Pfizer stockholder.
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