Digital ulcers represent one of the most frequent complications of systemic sclerosis (SSc; scleroderma); they are very painful, scarcely responsive to treatment, and often responsible for marked limitations on daily activities, including patient self-care. Infectious complications may severely compromise the outcome of skin lesions in a significant percentage of patients. Numerous pathogens of different origin may be involved, including bacteria from patient endogenous flora. Here we evaluated the possible involvement of fecal pathogens in scleroderma digital ulcers.


Among a series of 82 SSc patients with digital ulcers, we retrospectively analyzed 42 subjects with clinical signs of local bacterial infection. All digital ulcers with suspected infection have been investigated by microbiologic examinations.


Bacterial infection was confirmed in all 42 patients investigated; in particular, Staphylococcus aureus were the most frequently found (50%). Interestingly, 11 (26%) of 42 patients showed digital ulcers infected with intestinal bacteria; specifically, 7 patients were positive for Escherichia coli and 4 for Enterococcus faecalis. Diffuse cutaneous SSc patients were more numerous in this subgroup versus the other 31 patients (Fisher's P = 0.011).


A number of effective measures involving health care personnel and hospital environment are essential in the management of digital ulcers and prevention of infectious complications. In addition, the prevalence of fecal pathogens in one-quarter of cases, never reported previously, suggests an important role of a patient's self-care limitations, mainly during intercurrent home medications. Consequently, methodical education on hand hygiene of both patients and relatives, frequently involved in ulcer medications, is mandatory to avoid such deleterious complications.