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J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2012 Jun;70(6):1342-50. doi: 10.1016/j.joms.2011.05.007. Epub 2011 Aug 6.

Cervical necrotizing fasciitis with descending mediastinitis: literature review and case report.

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Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Cervical necrotizing fasciitis (CNF) can develop from odontogenic infections that spread to the deep fascial planes of the neck. This polymicrobial infection is rapidly progressive, destructive, and often fatal. Prompt diagnosis, recognition of acuity, aggressive, repeated surgical treatment, and medical management contribute to improved survival. Nevertheless, the progression of the disease to descending mediastinitis and septic shock leads to a poor prognosis and decreased survival. A comprehensive review of the current data regarding CNF was conducted using MEDLINE, PubMed, Scopus, and Google Scholar. The diagnostic elements, comorbid conditions, treatment modalities, complications, and survival rates were analyzed. CNF has a reported mortality rate of 7% to 20%, depending on the extent of neck involvement. When the disease progresses into the thorax, such as in the subset of patients with CNF complicated by descending necrotizing mediastinitis (DNM) of odontogenic origin, the mortality rate increases to 41%. This is greater than the reported mortality rate of 22% for DNM in cardiothoracic studies. When DNM is present, the risk of developing septic shock appears to be much greater, 22% versus 7%. In the presence of CNF, DNM, and sepsis, the mortality rate increases to 64%. Those who survive CNF complicated by DNM and sepsis have truly beaten the odds. CNF is an uncommon, but potentially fatal, condition that oral and maxillofacial surgeons might be called on to manage emergently. Treatment includes surgery and medical intensive care. Surgeons offer the best odds of patient survival by following these basic principles: airway security, early aggressive incision and drainage plus debridement with thoracotomy, as needed, close surveillance with computed tomography, and a low threshold for retreatment. In immunocompromised patients, even greater vigilance is required. Antibiotic therapy should be adjusted as cultures and sensitivities become available. Advances in interventional radiology might lead to improved survival by allowing guided minimally invasive drainage in critically ill patients who cannot tolerate additional surgical insult. Despite the technologic advances in diagnosis and treatment, CNF complicated by DNM mediastinitis and sepsis still results in astoundingly high mortality.

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