The microbiology of infected and noninfected leg ulcers


Philip G. Bowler, bsc, mibiol
ConvaTec Wound Healing Research Institute (WHRI)
1st Avenue
Deeside Industrial Park
Flintshire CH5 2NU


Background A clinical study was undertaken to investigate and compare specifically the aerobic and anaerobic microbiology of infected and noninfected leg ulcers.

Methods Leg ulcers, defined as being infected on the basis of clinical signs, were swab sampled and investigated for aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms using stringent isolation and identification techniques.

Results Two hundred and twenty isolates were cultured from 44 infected leg ulcers, in comparison with 110 isolates from 30 noninfected leg ulcers. Statistical analysis indicated a significantly greater mean number of anaerobic bacteria per infected ulcer (particularly Peptostreptococcus spp. and Prevotella spp.) in comparison with the noninfected ulcer group (2.5 vs. 1.3, respectively) (P < 0.05). Also, anaerobes represented 49% of the total microbial composition in infected leg ulcers compared with 36% in noninfected leg ulcers. The mean numbers of aerobes per wound in the two ulcer groups were not statistically different (P > 0.05). The study failed to demonstrate a clear correlation between commonly implicated facultative pathogens and wound infection. The isolation rate of Pseudomonas aeruginosa was generally low and, although Staphylococcus aureus was a frequent isolate in both wound types, it was more prevalent in noninfected leg ulcers.

Conclusions This study has demonstrated the complex aerobic–anaerobic microflora which exists in leg ulcers, the prevalence of anaerobes in infected wounds, and a poor correlation between the presence of specific aerobic pathogens and wound infection. In view of these findings, the role of microbial synergistic interactions in the pathogenesis of chronic wound infection may be of greater clinical importance than the isolated involvement of any specific potential pathogen.