Parapneumonic effusions

Thanks to Julie for presenting the case of a middle-aged man with recent CAP who presented with progressive SOB, pleuritic chest pain, weight loss, and anorexia, found to be septic with a large empyema, eventually requiring open decortication!

Clinical Pearls

  • Think of parapneumonic effusions in two broad categories: infected (complicated and empyema) and sterile (uncomplicated).
    • Infected (complicated and empyema) require chest tube placement and can be complicated by loculated effusions.
    • Uncomplicated resolve with the treatment of underlying pneumonia
  • Anaerobic organisms are a common cause of infected parapneumonic effusions.  Malodorous fluid at the time of thoracentesis is diagnostic!  But make sure to send anaerobic cultures to the lab to help with speciation.
  • pH of pleural fluid can be falsely elevated if not immediately stored on ice upon collection and processed in a blood gas analyzer.
  • Differential for pleural fluid that has low glucose/low pH is short: infection, TB, malignancy, rheumatoid pleurisy, and lupus pleuritis.
  • Remember that while ADA has high sensitivity (86%) and high specificity (87%) for TB, the study on which it is based was done in a high risk population so its utility in screening low risk patients is limited.

Parapneumonic effusions:

  • Form in 40% of bacterial pneumonia:
      • Uncomplicated: negative GS and Cx, pH>7.2, glucose >60, no loculations
      • Complicated: positive GS or Cx or pH <7.2, or glucose <60. LDH >1000 makes it more likely
      • Empyema: frank pus aspirated during thora, cell count with >50k WBCs

The latter two categories require chest tube placement to prevent formation of pleural “peels” that can lead to trapped lung and loss of lung function.

  • Imaging
    • Lateral decub or ultrasound, latter is more sensitive than CXR for diagnosing complicated parapneumonic effusions.
    • CT with contrast is the optimal imaging for empyema or loculated effusion
      • Look for the “split pleura sign”
  • Labs:
    • Serum procalcitonin >0.18 ng/mL is 83% sensitive and 81% specific for effusion having a bacterial infectious etiology
    • Bacteriology:
      • Anaerobic bugs are often the culprit!  So it is important to send pleural fluid for both aerobic and anaerobic cultures
      • Other bacteria: CAP organisms such as strep and staph as well as klebsiella in diabetic patients
      • Fungi
      • TB
  • Treatment:
    • Tube thoracostomy (chest tube): first intervention
      • CT within 24 hours to ensure correct positioning and adequate drainage, left in place until drainage is <50 cc/day
    • Fibrinolytic agents
      • DNA is a main contributor to viscosity of empyema fluid.  However, based on this trial published in NEJM in 2011, tPA and DNAase combined is associated with significant radiographic improvement of empyema, reduction in hospital stay, and lower number of surgical referrals.
    • VATS
    • Decortication
      • To remove the thickened fibrin layer covering the pleura.
    • Open thoracostomy
      • Rib resection and opening the chest wall at the inferior border of empyema to allow for ongoing drainage.  High risk of infection and complications.

Wound botulism – 9/26/18

Thanks to Alison for presenting the case of a middle aged man who presented with acute onset of ptosis, dysphagia, and dysarthria, with an evolving exam found to have botulism secondary to IV injection of black tar heroin.

Clinical Pearls

  • Botulism is extremely rare! Only 110 cases were reported last year in the US with 70-75% of them being related to infant botulism, 20-25% foodborne, and 5-10% wound botulism.  The latter category has been on the rise especially in California.
  • Most common form of botulism is infant botulism
  • Botulism presents with bulbar symptoms; progressive, descending paralysis; absent reflexes; and autonomic dysfunction
  • Management involves the following
    • Notify the Department of Public Health ASAP if botulism is on your ddx
    • Obtain wound/blood cultures (special tube to be sent to DPH)
    • Administer antitoxin EARLY (do NOT wait for culture confirmation)


For more information, check this prior post on our blog.

Acute Epiglottitis 9/24/2018

Yves-Paul presented a case of a middle age man with poorly controlled diabetes presenting with acute onset sore throat, which quickly progressed to dyspnea and dysphagia. He was noted to have stridor on evaluation and he was urgently intubated for airway protection. Subsequent endoscopic exam revealed a grossly purulent and inflamed epiglottis consistent with an abscess.

Stridor vs Wheezing

  • Stridor: Upper airway, inspiration, single pitch (remember the sound quiz we did?)
  • Wheezing: Relatively lower airway, expiratory musical sounds, but in bad cases can see wheezing in both




  • Kids more common (H. influenzae type B) but less common now due to vaccination.

Risk Factors

  • Kids: Immune deficiency, incomplete immunization
  • Adults: Immune deficiency, diabetes

Presentation: Drooling, dysphagia + odynophagia, dyspnea/distress

  • Acute in adults over 24-48 hours Kids can be hyperacute (< 12 hours) leading to airway compromise.
  • Obstruction less acute in adults due to larger AW diameter
  • Sore throat and odynophagia in most cases
  • Fewer have airway compromise; signs to look for are:
    • Drooling
    • Muffled voice
    • Respiratory distress
    • Stridor (impending obstruction)
    • Tripoding, extended neck (maximizes airway diameter)


  • Lateral X-ray with thumb sign demonstrates an enlarged epiglottis.


  • Direct visualization (fiber optic), beefy red, stiff, edematous epiglottis is diagnostic.


As you can see, the surrounding structures were grossly edematous and inflamed to the point we cannot identify the vocal cords at all.


  • Organisms: Strep, staph, non-type H.influenzae, beta hemolytic strep, Klebsiella
  • Viral: HSV, EBV, Para/influenza, VZV
  • Non-infectious: Foreign body


  • Secure airway FIRST. No not manipulate or remotely touch. Can be nasotracheal or orotracheal. If unable to intubate, tracheostomy can be done.
  • Abx: Beta lactamase resistant class (usually 3rd gen cephalosporin) in general unless also suspecting staph/strep, then add vancomycin as well
  • I&D if abscess



92% blasts… Fever… AND a rash?! 9/19/2018

Narges presented a case of a middle age woman without any prior medical history, presenting with 1 week of bruising, epistaxis, and bleeding from her gums. Her initial lab work was notable for a WBC of 52.2 with 92% blasts, later confirmed to be AML. She developed a fever and a rash over the next few days… She had neutropenic fever, and around the same, time, developed AML-associated Sweet’s Syndrome!

AML: A quick overview

Accounts for 80% of acute leukemias in adults

Risk Factors

  • Benzene exposure
  • Radiation exposure, commonly 7-10 years after exposure
  • Prior tx with alkylating agents and topoisomerase II inhibitors like doxorubicin, etoposide.
  • Age: greatest risk factor, older = at high risk, median age 65
  • CML, MDS, and myeloproliferative syndromes have a chance to evolve into AML.

Initial presentation

  • Bruising, gum bleeding, epistaxis from thrombocytopenia
  • SOB, DOE, fatigue from anemia
  • Pyogenic infections of the skin
  • HSM found in 1/3 of pts
  • 50% might have gingival hyperplasia as first signs of the disease
  • Small subset might have concurrent HLH on presentation
  • If fever, almost always infection


  • Buzz words: blasts on smears, Auer rods (peroxidase stain)
  • > 20% blasts cells
  • Flow cytometry
    • CD117, CD33 most common
    • CD19, if seen, suggests lymphoblastic origins
  • Subtypes
    • M3 (Acute promyelocytic leukemia), t(15; 17), prone to DIC, responsive to ATRA and potentially can be cured.
      • If pt receiving ATRA +/- Arsenic trioxide develop pulmonary sx think of an entity called Differentiation Syndrome, can be life threatening, stop treatment and give steroids.
    • Non APL: Everything else


  • Induction, consolidation (after complete remission, assess induction response via BM bx) via HiDAC high dose cytarabine, or autologous CT, or allogeneic HCT, maintenance (usually not needed but can be beneficial in some types of AML)
  • APL: ATRA +/- ATO
  • Non-APL: 7 day course of cytarabine and 3 day course of an anthracycline. For older pts with more comorbidities, can use a milder regimen with azacytidine or decitabine.


Neutropenic fever

Definition: T > 38.3 or > 38 sustained over 1 hour, with neutropenia (ANC < 500)

Determine high risk or low risk

  • Low Risk: Anticipated neutropenia < 7 days, clinically stable, NO medical comorbidities
    • IDSA: Can consider outpatient antibiotics, Cipro + Augmentin and able to tolerate PO, otherwise inpatient management
  • High Risk: Anticipated neutropenia > 7 days, clinically unstable, any medical comorbidities
    • Automatically inpatient management
    • Monotherapy with pseudomonal coverage initially is recommended by IDSA
      • Cefepime: 2g Q8H, higher dose than usual
      • Meropenem 1g Q8H
      • Imipenem
      • Zosyn 4.5g Q6-8
      • Ceftazidime increasingly avoided.
    • If history of MRSA, e/o catheter infection, skin infection, pneumonia, or unstable, add Vancomycin/MRSA coverage
    • PCN allergy: Can consider using Aztreonam, cipro
    • If recurrent of persistent fever after 4-7 days: Add an empiric antifungal, most of the time cover for candida since it’s the most common cause of invasive fungal infection.
      • Echinocandin is favored i.e. caspofungin, increasing azole resistance in candida.
      • Think aspergillus if e/o pulmonary nodules, ampho B and voriconazole then are preferred

Sweet’s Syndrome

Uncommon, inflammatory disorder, usually affects pts ages 30-60. Older = more likely malignancy associated


  • Abrupt, painful, edematous (juicy), erythematous papules/plaques/nodules + fever and leukocytosis.
  • Rare mucosal/oral involvement.
  • Can also rarely causes inflammation of a particular organ system, i.e eye, liver, heart, CNS, kidney, even bone.

Sweet.jpgImage adapted from Derm 101


  • Classic
    • Idiopathic, majority of cases
    • Associations: Infections (URI, GI) 1-3 weeks after infection
    • IBD
    • Pregnancy
    • HIV, TB, hepatitis, autoimmune conditions
    • Possible inc risk of malignancy
  • Malignancy associated
    • AML is the malignancy most associated with Sweet’s Syndrome.
    • Risk:
  • Drug-induced (long list but some of the potential ones we used more commonly are):
    • Bactrim, Macrobid, AED, hydralazine, clozapine, PTU, GCSF, Mirena, Lasix, Azathioprine, ATRA

Dx Criteria: both majors and 2 minors are required

  • Majors
    • Abrupt onset of painful erythematous plaques or nodules
    • Histopath evidence of dense neutrophilic infiltrate without evidence of leukocytoclastic vasculitis
  • Minor:
    • > 38C
    • Underlying malignancy, IBD, pregnancy, or recent upper resp, GI infection, or vaccination
    • Steroid responsive
    • Labs: ESR > 20, CRP elevated, leukocytosis > 8000 with > 70% neutrophils)

Biopsy: Dense, neutrophilic infiltrate in the dermis, w/o e/o vasculitis.

Encephalitis and CJD! – 8/22/18

Thanks to Joe for presenting the case of an elderly man presenting with subacute onset of AMS, vision changes, and ataxia, found to have creutzfeldt jakob disease (CJD).

Clinical Pearls

  • Rapidly progressive encephalitis should trigger prion disease, paraneoplastic encephalitis, or Whipple’s!
  • Most common malignancies associated with paraneoplastic encephalitis are SCLC, testicular tumors, thymomas, breast cancer, and hodgkin lymphoma
  • >90% of cases of CJD are sporadic
  • Definitive diagnosis of CJD is made by brain biopsy.  CSF testing of 14-3-3 protein marker and the RT-QuIC protein assay combined have sensitivity and specificity >90%.
  • If prion diseases are on your differential, be sure to let infection control know before doing an LP because strict precautions are required to prevent spread of infection!


Defined as AMS > 24 hours plus 2 of the following:

  1. Fever
  2. Focal neurologic deficit
  3. Seizure
  4. CSF pleocytosis
  5. Abnormal findings on EEG or neuroimaging



Prion diseases:

  • AKA transmissible spongiform encephalopathies
  • Rare, closely related, fatal, neurodegenerative conditions
  • Occur in humans and mammals
  • Result of accumulation of aggregated forms of the prion protein in the CNS
  • >90% are sporadic, the rest are infectious (kuru, variant CJD, and iatrogenic CJD)
    • Iatrogenic mostly resulting from receipt of growth hormone prepared from cadaveric pituitaries and contaminated cadaveric dura mater allografts
    • Sporadic is not transmissible by blood
  • Kuru was the first one recognized to be transmissible and linked to cannibalism among tribes in New Guinea


  • Most prominent clinical feature is disordered cognition
  • Typically, patients also have motor signs, such as ataxia or spasticity, vague sensory problems, or changes in visual perception
  • Myoclonus is common
  • Progressive neurologic decline resulting in death within 6-12 months
  • One in a million
  • Mean age of onset 57 – 62
  • More common in white people (may be ascertainment bias)


  • Elevated CSF levels of 14-3-3 are not very sensitive or specific.  Adding RT-QuIC protein assay to the test increases both sensitivity and specificity to >90%.
  • CDC requires the following criteria for diagnosis:
    • Progressive dementia AND
    • 2 of the following: myoclonus, visual or cerebellar disturbance, pyramidal/extrapyramidal dysfunction, akinetic mutism AND
    • Atypical EEG and/or positive 14-3-3 CSF assay  with clinical duration to death <2 years and or typical MRI abnormalities (see nice example here)


  • Poor, majority die within 1 year
  • No treatment available

GI Kaposi Sarcoma – 8/20/18

Thanks to Wendy for presenting a case of an elderly man with h/o remote renal transplant presenting with chronic progressive DOE, lower extremity edema, and upper and lower GI bleed, found to have AIDS-related GI kaposi sarcoma and associated protein-losing enteropathy!

Clinical Pearls:

  • Keep a broad differential for patients on immunosuppression
  • Incidence of KS is higher with CD4 counts <200 but it can be seen in CD4>500 as well.
  • Prognosis is generally good with treatment.  Poorer prognosis is associated with visceral involvement (as opposed to cutaneous), multiple opportunistic infections, and CD4<200
  • Mainstay of therapy is anti-retrovirals.  Chemotherapy can be used for ARV unresponsive disease, significant edema, extensive organ involvement, or IRIS.  Studies on chemo + ARV vs ARV alone showed no survival benefit with the former.
  • Thanks to Dr. Szumowski for the clinical pearl on use of sirolimus in renal transplant recipients with KS (article here).

Differential for odynophagia:

  • Infectious
    • HSV
    • CMV
    • Fungal
      • Candida ⇒ risk factors include dentures, immunosuppression (AIDS, chemo), radiation to head and neck, recent antibiotics
      • Others: crypto, histo, blasto, aspergillus
    • Mycobacteria
  • Medication-induced
  • Less common
    • Reflux esophagitis
    • Crohn’s

Kaposi Sarcoma:

  • Vascular tumor associated with HHV-8
  • Four different epidemiologic forms:
    1. AIDS-related: most common type in US
      • Higher incidence with CD4 <200 but can be seen with CD4 >500 as well.
    2. Endemic/African
    3. Organ transplant-associated (higher incidence after solid organ transplant)
    4. Classic (indolent cutaneous proliferative disease in older men of Mediterranean or Jewish descent)

KS in the GI tract:

  • Can occur in the absence of cutaneous disease
  • Symptoms range from asymptomatic to weight loss, abdominal pain, n/v, UGIB/LGIB, malabsorption, diarrhea
  • Inflammatory cytokine syndrome:
    • Systemic inflammation in AIDS-related KS
    • Symptoms:
      • Fever
      • Edema
      • Neuropathy
      • GI/respiratory symptoms
      • Hypoalbuminemia (can occur in the absence of the who syndrome)
        • Secondary to protein losing enteropathy (check stool clearance of alpha-1 antitrypsin)
      • Thrombocytopenia
      • Splenomegaly
Staging of KS: 
  • Extent of tumor (T): limited to skin with minimal oral cavity involvement is good.  Visceral involvement has poor prognosis.
  • Immune status (I): Degree of immunosuppression from HIV. CD4 <200 has worse prognosis
  • Severity of systemic illness (S): poor prognosis a/w h/o OI, thrush, B symptoms, etc.
  • Endoscopy and bronchoscopy are only done if initial stool test and CXR are abnormal
  • Goal: palliation, prevention of disease progression, and shrinkage of tumor to alleviate edema, organ compromise, and psychological distress
  • Systemic
    • Treatment with potent ART
      • IRIS can occur within 3-6 weeks of initiation
    • Chemo: for patients with advanced KS and rapid progression
      • Indications
        • >25 lesions
        • Unresponsive to local treatment or ART alone
        • Extensive edema
        • Symptomatic visceral involvement
        • IRIS
      • Agents:
        • Pegylated liposomal doxorubicin or daunorubicin
        • Paclitaxel, bleo, vinblastine, vincristine, etoposide
    • Chemo + ART or ART alone? While response rates are higher with the former, no survival benefit
  • Local symptomatic therapy
    • Intralesional chemo (vinblastine)
    • Radiation therapy
    • Topical alitretinoin


Plasmodium vivax 8/9/2018

Narges presented a case of a returning traveler from India, coming in with fever, malaise, and headache several months after returning from India. He was thrombocytopenic on presentation, and a blood smear revealed intracellular parasites within RBCs. He was diagnosed with Plasmodium vivax!



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