Infections involving the fingers, hand, wrist or arm are common problems that usually require emergency treatment. The infections occurring at these locations often develop several days after a laceration, cut, or opening in the skin. Animal or human bites are common causes of infections, but infections can result from various causes, including following surgery. Infections usually present with symptoms of localized redness, swelling, pain, warmth, and possible drainage at the site of origin. Fever and chills may accompany some infections. A collection of pus present beneath the skin, known as an abscess, often occurs. Infections can spread to other areas in the hand, wrist, or arm by various routes. An infection that spreads through the skin, called cellulitis, presents with areas of increased redness and swelling with possible red streaking on the hand or arm. Another type of infection, called tenosynovitis, involves an infection of the tendons in the hand and arm, and spreads through the tendon sheath or covering. Infections can form around the fingernail (paronychia), within a bone (osteomyelitis), or can involve a joint (septic arthritis).
The treatment for infections varies with the nature of the infection and its location. In general, most infections require either oral or intravenous antibiotics in combination with some sort of drainage procedure. Antibiotics are prescribed medications which are directed against the most common bacterial organisms, while still offering a broad spectrum of coverage. If cultures are obtained, antibiotics can frequently be directed against a specific organism. Drainage procedures can range from simple procedures performed in the office under local anesthesia to complex procedures done in the hospital that require general anesthesia and extended hospital stay. Localized wound care is usually necessary for up to several weeks following most infections.
Infections that are addressed and treated in a timely matter often respond to treatment and resolve within days to weeks. Some infections, such as fungal infections, can become chronic and require long-term treatment.
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