Optimal timing of initial debridement for necrotizing soft tissue infection: A Practice Management Guideline from the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma

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Necrotizing soft tissue infections (NSTI) are rare, life-threatening, soft-tissue infections characterized by rapidly spreading inflammation and necrosis of the skin, subcutaneous fat, and fascia. While it is widely accepted that delay in surgical debridement contributes to increased mortality, there are currently no practice management guidelines regarding the optimal timing of surgical management of this condition. Although debridement within 24 hours of diagnosis is generally recommended, the time ranges from 3 hours to 36 hours in the existing literature. Therefore, the objective of this article is to provide evidence-based recommendations for the optimal timing of surgical management of NSTI.


The MEDLINE database using PubMed was searched to identify English language articles published from January 1990 to September 2015 regarding adult and pediatric patients with NSTIs. A systematic review of the literature was performed, and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation framework were used. A single population [P], intervention [I], comparator [C], and outcome [O] (PICO) question was applied: In patients with NSTI (P), should early (<12 hours) initial debridement (I) versus late (≥12 hours) initial debridement (C) be performed to decrease mortality (O)?


Two hundred eighty-seven articles were identified. Of these, 42 papers underwent full text review and 6 were selected for guideline construction. A total of 341 patients underwent debridement for NSTI. Of these, 143 patients were managed with early versus 198 with late operative debridement. Across all studies, there was an overall mortality rate of 14% in the early group versus 25.8% in the late group.


For NSTIs, we recommend early operative debridement within 12 hours of suspected diagnosis. Institutional and regional systems should be optimized to facilitate prompt surgical evaluation and debridement.


Systematic review/meta-analysis, level IV.

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