Scientific article

Diagnosis and treatment of diabetic foot infections

Published inPlastic and reconstructive surgery, vol. 117, no. 7 Suppl, p. 212S-238S
Publication date2006

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: 1. Foot infections in patients with diabetes cause substantial morbidity and frequent visits to health care professionals and may lead to amputation of a lower extremity. 2. Diabetic foot infections require attention to local (foot) and systemic (metabolic) issues and coordinated management, preferably by a multidisciplinary foot-care team (A-II). The team managing these infections should include, or have ready access to, an infectious diseases specialist or a medical microbiologist (B-II). 3. The major predisposing factor to these infections is foot ulceration, which is usually related to peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral vascular disease and various immunological disturbances play a secondary role. 4. Aerobic Gram-positive cocci (especially Staphylococcus aureus) are the predominant pathogens in diabetic foot infections. Patients who have chronic wounds or who have recently received antibiotic therapy may also be infected with Gram-negative rods, and those with foot ischemia or gangrene may have obligate anaerobic pathogens. 5. Wound infections must be diagnosed clinically on the basis of local (and occasionally systemic) signs and symptoms of inflammation. Laboratory (including microbiological) investigations are of limited use for diagnosing infection, except in cases of osteomyelitis (B-II). 6. Send appropriately obtained specimens for culture before starting empirical antibiotic therapy in all cases of infection, except perhaps those that are mild and previously untreated (B-III). Tissue specimens obtained by biopsy, ulcer curettage, or aspiration are preferable to wound swab specimens (A-I). 7. Imaging studies may help diagnose or better define deep, soft-tissue purulent collections and are usually needed to detect pathological findings in bone. Plain radiography may be adequate in many cases, but MRI (in preference to isotope scanning) is more sensitive and specific, especially for detection of soft-tissue lesions (A-I). 8. Infections should be categorized by their severity on the basis of readily assessable clinical and laboratory features (B-II). Most important among these are the specific tissues involved, the adequacy of arterial perfusion, and the presence of systemic toxicity or metabolic instability. Categorization helps determine the degree of risk to the patient and the limb and, thus, the urgency and venue of management. 9. Available evidence does not support treating clinically uninfected ulcers with antibiotic therapy (D-III). Antibiotic therapy is necessary for virtually all infected wounds, but it is often insufficient without appropriate wound care. 10. Select an empirical antibiotic regimen on the basis of the severity of the infection and the likely etiologic agent(s) (B-II). Therapy aimed solely at aerobic Gram-positive cocci may be sufficient for mild-to-moderate infections in patients who have not recently received antibiotic therapy (A-II). Broad-spectrum empirical therapy is not routinely required but is indicated for severe infections, pending culture results and antibiotic susceptibility data (B-III). Take into consideration any recent antibiotic therapy and local antibiotic susceptibility data, especially the prevalence of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) or other resistant organisms. Definitive therapy should be based on both the culture results and susceptibility data and the clinical response to the empirical regimen (C-III). 11. There is only limited evidence with which to make informed choices among the various topical, oral, and parenteral antibiotic agents. Virtually all severe and some moderate infections require parenteral therapy, at least initially (C-III). Highly bioavailable oral antibiotics can be used in most mild and in many moderate infections, including some cases of osteomyelitis (A-II). Topical therapy may be used for some mild superficial infections (B-I). 12. Continue antibiotic therapy until there is evidence that the infection has resolved but not necessarily until a wound has healed. Suggestions for the duration of antibiotic therapy are as follows: for mild infections, 12 weeks usually suffices, but some require an additional 12 weeks; for moderate and severe infections, usually 24 weeks is sufficient, depending on the structures involved, the adequacy of debridement, the type of soft-tissue wound cover, and wound vascularity (A-II); and for osteomyelitis, generally at least 46 weeks is required, but a shorter duration is sufficient if the entire infected bone is removed, and probably a longer duration is needed if infected bone remains (B-II). 13. If an infection in a clinically stable patient fails to respond to 1 antibiotic courses, consider discontinuing all antimicrobials and, after a few days, obtaining optimal culture specimens (C-III). 14. Seek surgical consultation and, when needed, intervention for infections accompanied by a deep abscess, extensive bone or joint involvement, crepitus, substantial necrosis or gangrene, or necrotizing fasciitis (A-II). Evaluating the limb's arterial supply and revascularizing when indicated are particularly important. Surgeons with experience and interest in the field should be recruited by the foot-care team, if possible. 15. Providing optimal wound care, in addition to appropriate antibiotic treatment of the infection, is crucial for healing (A-I). This includes proper wound cleansing, debridement of any callus and necrotic tissue, and, especially, off-loading of pressure. There is insufficient evidence to recommend use of a specific wound dressing or any type of wound healing agents or products for infected foot wounds. 16. Patients with infected wounds require early and careful follow-up observation to ensure that the selected medical and surgical treatment regimens have been appropriate and effective (B-III). 17. Studies have not adequately defined the role of most adjunctive therapies for diabetic foot infections, but systematic reviews suggest that granulocyte colony-stimulating factors and systemic hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help prevent amputations (B-I). These treatments may be useful for severe infections or for those that have not adequately responded to therapy, despite correcting for all amenable local and systemic adverse factors. 18. Spread of infection to bone (osteitis or osteomyelitis) may be difficult to distinguish from noninfectious osteoarthropathy. Clinical examination and imaging tests may suffice, but bone biopsy is valuable for establishing the diagnosis of osteomyelitis, for defining the pathogenic organism(s), and for determining the antibiotic susceptibilities of such organisms (B-II). 19. Although this field has matured, further research is much needed. The committee especially recommends that adequately powered prospective studies be undertaken to elucidate and validate systems for classifying infection, diagnosing osteomyelitis, defining optimal antibiotic regimens in various situations, and clarifying the role of surgery in treating osteomyelitis (A-III).

Citation (ISO format)
LIPSKY, Benjamin Alan et al. Diagnosis and treatment of diabetic foot infections. In: Plastic and reconstructive surgery, 2006, vol. 117, n° 7 Suppl, p. 212S–238S. doi: 10.1097/01.prs.0000222737.09322.77
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