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Gas Gangrene

​​Gangrene describes the death of infected tissue. This tissue damage may be caused by the Clostridium bacterium—most commonly, Clostridium perfringens. When this is the case, the disease is called gas gangrene or clostridial myonecrosis (myo refers to muscle, and necrosis to death). It is a rare but life-threatening infection that occurs when these bacteria multiple and produce toxins, causing tissue injury. This condition is frequently associated with a recent surgical wound or trauma.

Signs and Symptoms

If gas gangrene develops in your child, it will probably begin with pain at the site of the existing wound. Next, your youngster may experience fluid buildup (edema), tenderness, and a worsening of the pain. Her heart rate may increase (tachycardia), along with rapid breathing, sweating, paleness, and fever. If untreated, her condition can get worse and lead to a lowering of blood pressure to dangerous levels (hypotension), kidney failure, an impairment of her mental status, and shock.

The incubation period from the time of infection to the appearance of symptoms can be as short as 6 hours and as long as 3 weeks. In most cases, the period is 2 to 4 days.

When to Call Your Pediatrician

If there are signs of infection, particularly if associated with a skin wound, contact your pediatrician immediately.

How Is the Diagnosis Made?

Your doctor will diagnose gas gangrene based on your child's symptoms, along with laboratory tests to find Clostridium bacteria such as cultures and smears of a blood sample and secretions from the infected area.


Gas gangrene must be treated immediately by:

  • Surgically removing the dead and infected tissue
  • Administering penicillin intravenously
  • Managing shock and other complications
  • Possibly treating the patient in a high-pressure oxygen chamber, although the effectiveness of this approach has not been proven

What Is the Prognosis?

Unless properly treated, gas gangrene can become progressively worse, leading to the spread of the infection throughout the body (sepsis) and often death within hours.


If your child has a skin injury, wash the area with soap and water and keep it clean. If the wound becomes seriously contaminated, visit your pediatrician or an emergency department, where they likely will flush it with water and start antibiotics such as penicillin or clindamycin.

Last Updated
Adapted from Immunizations and Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parents Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics) and updated 2011
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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