Military trainees are at high risk for skin and soft-tissue infections (SSTIs). Although Staphylococcus aureus is associated with purulent SSTI, it is unclear to what degree this pathogen causes nonpurulent cellulitis. To inform effective prevention strategies and to provide novel insights into SSTI pathogenesis, we aimed to determine the etiology of SSTI in this population. We conducted a prospective observational study in US Army Infantry trainees with SSTI (cutaneous abscesses and cellulitis) from July 2012 through December 2014. We used standard microbiology, serology, and high-throughput sequencing to determine the etiology of SSTI. Furthermore, we compared purported risk factors as well as anatomic site colonization for S. aureus. Among 201 SSTI cases evaluated for SSTI risk factors, cellulitis was associated with lower extremity blisters (P = 0.01) and abscess was associated with methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) colonization (P<0.001). Among the 22 tested cellulitis cases that were part of the microbiome analysis, only 1 leading edge aspirate was culturable (Coagulase-negative Staphylococcus). Microbiome evaluation of aspirate specimens demonstrated that Rhodanobacter terrae was the most abundant species (66.8% average abundance), while abscesses were dominated by S. aureus (92.9% average abundance). Although abscesses and cellulitis share the spectrum of clinical SSTI, the bacterial etiologies as determined by current technology appear distinct. Furthermore, the presence of atypical bacteria within cellulitis aspirates may indicate novel mechanisms of cellulitis pathogenesis.
Clinical trials registration: NCT01105767.