Background: Necrotizing soft tissue infections of the chest wall are uncommon, and they have received little discussion in the medical literature.
Methods: We performed a collective review of the literature to summarize information on etiology, prevention, treatment, complications, and outcome of chest wall necrotizing soft tissue infections. Manual, Medline, and Current Contents searches of the English-language medical literature were done.
Results: There were 9 reported cases of necrotizing soft tissue infection of the chest wall. Eight were complications of invasive procedures and operations. Tube thoracostomy for empyema (4 patients) was the most common antecedent procedure. Excessive soft tissue dissection during chest tube insertion was implicated in the genesis of these infections. Necrotizing infections complicated esophageal operations in 2 patients. Overall mortality was 89%. Only 3 of the 9 patients underwent early and adequate debridement. Chest wall stability and wound reconstruction were problematic in patients who survived the initial septic illness.
Conclusions: Necrotizing soft tissue infections of the chest wall are highly lethal infections that require urgent and aggressive debridement. Diagnostic delay and inadequate debridement are common reasons for treatment failure. Repetitive surgical debridement is often needed to control sepsis. Wound closure is challenging in patients who survive the initial septic phase of their illness.