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By Larry M. Bush, MD

Erysipelothricosis is a skin infection caused by the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae.

Erysipelothrix bacteria are common worldwide and may infect a variety of animals, including insects, shellfish, fish, birds, and mammals (especially swine). People acquire the infection from a puncture wound or scrape that occurs while handling infected animal matter (such as carcasses or fish). Risk is increased for butchers, people who work in slaughter houses, farmers, cooks, and fishermen.

People can also become infected when they are bitten by an infected cat or dog.

A purplish red, hard area develops at the site of the injury. It may itch, burn, and/or swell. Sometimes nearby lymph nodes become swollen.

Rarely, the infection spreads through the bloodstream and infects joints or heart valves.

Sometimes doctors take a sample of tissue from the infected skin and send it to a laboratory where bacteria, if present, can be grown (cultured). If doctors suspect that a joint or heart valve is infected, they take a sample of joint fluid or blood and check it for the bacteria.

If the infection involves only the skin, doctors usually give people antibiotics, such as penicillin, ampicillin, ciprofloxacin or clindamycin, by mouth for a week.

If the infection has spread, doctors give antibiotics by vein for a longer time.

* This is the Consumer Version. *