If you suffer from any pain in the hand, please don’t hesitate to Schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists as soon as possible.
What is a hand infection?
A hand infection is what it sounds like- an infection in the hand. Since our hands are the instruments with which we interact with our environment- getting them in contact with infecting agents is quite common. There are many tissues in the hand that can get infected and depending on the location as well as the organism infections in the hand can be anywhere on the spectrum of relatively minor to life threatening.
What causes hand infections?
There are many things that can cause an infection in the hand. Here are the different types of hand infection types:
- Bites. See our animal bite and fight bite (human bite) pages for more information on infections from bites.
- Cellulitis- is a soft tissue infection which can progress to a deeper infection.
- Deep space infection- is a deep infection that can spread quickly through non-vascular tissue planes and requires urgent treatment.
- Felon- an infection of the pulp of the fingertip.
- Paronychia- an infection of the tissue around the nail fold.
- Flexor tenosynovitis- is an infection of the tendon sheath, which bathes the tendons that flex the finger and can become a highway for the spread of infection in the finger.
- Herpetic Whitlow- a viral infection caused by exposure to human saliva.
- MRSA- methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus is an insolent type of bacteria that can be found in group home or hospital settings and can cause aggressive infection.
- Necrotizing fasciitis- is also known as a “flesh-eating bacteria” and is as bad as it sounds. The infection spreads so quickly that it can take minutes to spread throughout a body part. This is an extremely morbid infection and must be quickly as soon as possible. If you suspect necrotizing fasciitis, you should seek immediate emergency care at a hospital.
- Mycobacterial infections- are less common infections which are caused by slow-growing but insolent bacteria, which can come from contaminated water.
- Septic arthritis– is an infection of a joint and requires urgent treatment.
- Osteomyelitis- is an infection of the bone, which is difficult to get rid of once it sets in.
Risk factors for hand infections include:
- Diabetes, HIV/AIDs
- Taking immunosuppressive medication, such as for an autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Lupus, Rheumatoid or Psoriatic arthritis, organ transplant
What are the symptoms of a hand infection?
The hallmarks of infection as known from ancient roman days remain the same:
- “Rubor” in latin means “redness”. Tissues will have a rosy or even bright red color.
- “Calor” in latin means “heat”. Infected tissues will be palpably warmer than surrounding non-infected tissues.
- “Dolor” in latin means “pain”. Pain often accompanies infection as nerves become irritated.
- “Tumor” in latin means “swelling”. This does not mean that it is a cancer, it simply means that the tissue swells as inflammatory factors bring water out of vessels and into the spaces in between our cells.
- “Functio laesa” in latin means “loss of function”. Infected tissues have a harder time functioning correctly due to the swelling and physiological dysfunction that occurs.
Depending on which type of infection you have, you may experience one or more of the above hallmarks to various degrees. Other symptoms such as tissue discoloration, bad odor, red streaking, lymph node swelling, fatigue, fevers and night sweats can occur as well.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Infections are diagnosed with a combination of the history of the events surrounding presentation, physical examination, possible imaging and blood work which look for evidence of infective microorganisms and the body’s response to the infection. Cultures are often taken from the tissue in question to narrow down antibiotic choices from broad to specific.
Treatment depends on the type of infection that is present. Read more about each specific diagnosis in the links listed above. In general, medical treatment can range from short term oral antibiotics to long-term intravenous antibiotics. Treatment may also involve surgical debridement and in severe cases- amputation. Once all infection has been resolved, treatment focus shifts to reconstruction and recovery of function.
AAOS- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons infections OrthoInfo webpage.
AAOS- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons infections after fracture OrthoInfo webpage.
ASSH-American Society of Hand Surgery hand infection Handcare webpage.
If you would like to speak to one of our upper extremity specialists in Dallas, give us a call at 817-697-4038, or contact us over the web. Tele-medicine appointments are also available.