Tropical ulcers: the first imported cases and review of the literature

Eur J Dermatol. 2021 Feb 1;31(1):75-80. doi: 10.1684/ejd.2021.3968.


Background: A tropical ulcer is a bacterial necrotizing disease of the skin, with an acute or chronic clinical course, caused by anaerobic bacteria, notably Fusobacteria spp.

Objectives: We present six Italian tourists who acquired tropical ulcers in tropical and subtropical countries.

Materials & methods: Four males and two females acquired a skin ulcer during trips to Brazil, Malaysia, Fiji Islands, Zambia, Tanzania and India. In all patients, medical history, physical and dermatological examination, laboratory tests, bacteriological examinations and biopsy were carried out.

Results: All patients were in good general health. All patients stated that the ulcer was caused by a trauma. No fever was reported. Neither lymphangitis nor lymphadenopathy were detected. The ulcer was located on a forearm in one patient, on a leg in two and on an ankle in three patients. All ulcers were malodorous and painful. Laboratory tests revealed mild leucocytosis and a mild increase in erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein. Results of bacteriological examinations revealed the presence of Fusobacterium spp. in five patients. Other bacteria were identified in all patients. Histopathological examination showed: necrosis of the epidermis and dermis; vascular dilatation; oedema in the dermis; massive infiltration with neutrophils, lymphocytes and histiocytes; and fragmented collagen bundles. No signs of vasculitis were observed. All patients were successfully treated with oral metronidazole (1 g/day for two weeks) and, according to antibiograms, with different systemic antibiotics.

Conclusion: To our knowledge, these are the first cases of tropical ulcers reported in Western tourists.

Keywords: Fusobacteria spp.; Fusobacterium ulcerans; anaerobic bacteria; tropical ulcer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic*
  • Bacterial Infections / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Necrosis
  • Skin Ulcer / microbiology*
  • Skin Ulcer / pathology*