Clostridium myonecrosis is a rare and deadly infection that progresses very rapidly; thus, prompt diagnosis and treatment is vital. In adults, clostridial myonecrosis used to be a well-known complication of war wounds. Today, it is usually seen in settings of trauma, surgery, malignancy, skin infections/burns, and septic abortions. More recently, cases of nontraumatic or spontaneous clostridial myonecrosis have been reported in both adults and children. Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium septicum are responsible for the majority of the clinically relevant infections. Higher mortality rates are seen when C septicum is the causative agent.
Here we present a child who survived a severe case of C septicum myonecrosis involving both abdominal and thoracic cavities. This rare infection has a high mortality rate and might be easily misdiagnosed in children, even by experienced clinicians, because of its nonspecific presentation. We also review all reported pediatric cases of C septicum infection and myonecrosis and discuss the surgical and medical interventions associated with improved survival.
We identified a total of 47 cases of C septicum infection; of these, 22 (47%) were cases of C septicum associated with myonecrosis. Several factors, if available, were analyzed for each case: age, gender, infection location, previous diagnoses, presenting signs and symptoms, neutropenia, gross pathology of the colon, antibiotic use, surgical intervention, and final outcome.
We found that conditions related with C septicum infection in children can be grouped into 3 major categories: patients with neutrophil dysfunction; patients with associated bowel ischemia; and patients with a history of trauma. Malignancies were found in 49% of the cases, cyclic or congenital neutropenia in 21%, hemolytic-uremic syndrome in 11%, structural bowel ischemia in 4%, and local extremity trauma in 6%. In addition, 6% of the cases had no known underlying disorder. Abdominal symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, blood per rectum, abdominal pain, anorexia, and/or acute abdomen, were reported in 85% of the children. Fever was also a common finding.
The mainstay of treatment for C septicum infection was parenteral antibiotics and/or surgical intervention. The mortality rate for children with C septicum infection and myonecrosis was 57% and 59%, respectively. Although 82% of all cases received antibiotics, only 43% underwent therapeutic surgical intervention. Several clinical factors were found to be associated with improved survival. Only 35% of the children with gastrointestinal tract involvement survived, compared with 86% of the children without gastrointestinal tract involvement. The survival rates for other conditions ranged from 0% to 50%. One hundred percent survival was reported in patients with no previously diagnosed conditions and those with infections resulting from trauma to the extremities. All survivors received antibiotic treatment, compared with only 68% of the nonsurvivors. Most survivors (84%) underwent therapeutic surgical intervention, compared with only 12% of nonsurvivors. Other treatments were used adjunctively, including hyperbaric oxygen, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, granulocyte transfusions, and intravenous immunoglobulin.
C septicum infections in children are often fatal; thus, one needs to have a high index of suspicion in at-risk patients. This review describes who these patients are, their clinical presentation, and the therapeutic strategies associated with improved survival.