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Larry M. Bush

, MD, FACP, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University

Last full review/revision Mar 2021| Content last modified Mar 2021
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Erysipelothricosis is a skin infection caused by the gram-positive bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae.

  • People are infected when they have a puncture wound or scrape while they are handling infected animal matter.

  • Erysipelothricosis results in a purplish red, hardened rash that may itch, burn, and/or swell.

  • Doctors diagnose erysipelothricosis based on culture of a sample of infected tissue.

  • The infection can be effectively treated with antibiotics.

(See also Overview of Bacteria.)

Erysipelothrix bacteria are common worldwide and may infect a variety of animals, including shellfish, fish, birds, and mammals (especially swine), and insects. People acquire the infection from a puncture wound or scrape that occurs while handling infected animal matter (such as carcasses or fish). Risk is increased for butchers, people who work in slaughter houses, farmers, cooks, and fishermen.

People can also become infected when they are bitten by an infected cat or dog.

Symptoms of Erysipelothricosis

A purplish red, hardened rash (called erysipeloid) develops at the site of the injury. It may itch, burn, and/or swell. Swelling may interfere with use of the hand. Sometimes nearby lymph nodes become swollen. Symptoms may last for 3 weeks.

Rarely, erysipelothricosis spreads through the bloodstream and infects joints or heart valves.

Diagnosis of Erysipelothricosis

  • Culture and other tests of a sample of infected tissue

To diagnose erysipelothricosis, doctors may take a sample of tissue from the infected skin and send it to a laboratory where bacteria, if present, can be grown (cultured) and identified. If doctors suspect that a joint or heart valve is infected, they take a sample of joint fluid or blood and check it for the bacteria.

Doctors may use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique on the sample to increase the amount of the bacteria's genetic material (DNA). This technique helps doctors detect the bacteria more quickly.

Treatment of Erysipelothricosis

  • Antibiotics

If erysipelothricosis involves only the skin, doctors usually give people antibiotics, such as penicillin or ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, or clindamycin, by mouth for a week.

If the infection has spread, doctors give antibiotics by vein for a longer time.

If a heart valve is infected, it often must be replaced.

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