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Skin and soft tissue infections are diagnosed principally by a careful history (e.g., temporal progression, travel, animal exposure, bites, trauma, underlying medical conditions) and physical examination (appearance of lesions and distribution). Treatment of common skin infections is summarized in Table 87-1; parenteral treatment is usually given until systemic signs and symptoms have improved. Types of skin lesions include the following:

  1. Vesicles: due to proliferation of organisms, usually viruses, within the epidermis (e.g., VZV, HSV, coxsackievirus, poxviruses, Rickettsia akari)

  2. Bullae: caused by toxin-producing organisms. Different entities affect different skin levels. For example, staphylococcal scalded-skin syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis cause cleavage of the stratum corneum and the stratum germinativum, respectively. Bullae are also seen in necrotizing fasciitis, gas gangrene, and Vibrio vulnificus infections.

  3. Crusted lesions: Impetigo caused by either Streptococcus pyogenes (impetigo contagiosa) or Staphylococcus aureus (bullous impetigo) usually starts with a bullous phase before development of a golden-brown crust. Crusted lesions are also seen in some systemic fungal infections, dermatophytic infections, and cutaneous mycobacterial infections. It is important to recognize impetigo contagiosa because of its relation to poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.

  4. Folliculitis: Localized infection of hair follicles is usually due to S. aureus. “Hot-tub folliculitis” is a diffuse condition caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Freshwater avian schistosomes cause an allergic reaction after penetrating hair follicles, resulting in “swimmer’s itch.”

  5. Papular and nodular lesions: Raised lesions of the skin occur in many different forms and can be caused by Bartonella henselae (cat-scratch disease and bacillary angiomatosis), Treponema pallidum, human papillomavirus, mycobacteria, and helminths.

  6. Ulcers, with or without eschars: can be caused by cutaneous anthrax, ulceroglandular tularemia, plague, and mycobacterial infection. Ulcerated lesions on the genitals can be caused by chancroid (painful) or syphilis (painless).

  7. Erysipelas: abrupt onset of fiery red swelling of the face or extremities, with well-defined indurated margins, intense pain, and rapid progression. S. pyogenes is the exclusive cause.

TABLE 87-1Treatment of Common Infections of the Skin

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