What is purpura fulminans?

Posted on November 29, 2012

Unless you know someone who has had to deal with this condition,it’s likely that  you may not know anything about it. Purpura fulminans is a very rare condition that follows more common infectious illnesses such as pneumococcal pneumonia or meningococcal meningitis. The condition occurs primarily in children and infants, with a higher proportion of babies affected. Occasionally young adults can be effected

Purpura fulminans is a coagulopathic and hemorrhagic condition—resulting from defects in the blood. Small blood vessels can clot and once-healthy tissue become necrotic and infected, leading to possible surgical removal or amputation of the affected area.
Symptoms of the condition typically set in within one to four weeks after the original illness. Apparent signs of the condition include:

  • The appearance of small, bluish bruises on the arms, legs, fingers and toes.
  • Shock
  • Lethargy
  • High fever
  • Chills and rigors
  • Severe hemorrhaging—particularly in areas where an IV may have been inserted

Symptoms onset and escalate quickly. Purpura fulminas can be fatal within a span of 48-72 hours if left untreated. Due to the condition’s severity and rapid progression, children who display symptoms of the condition should be treated at the hospital immediately.

At the hospital, specialists may run an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine the severity of the infection and gauge the impact on soft tissue.

Once doctors have a clearer picture of the extent of the illness, they can begin treatment. The course of treatment will differ for each child, depending on the severity of the condition and its location on the body. If extensive areas of soft tissue become necrotic or infected, children may require extensive soft-tissue surgery, which can be expertly done at Shriners Hospitals for Children- Boston. Other components of management may include:

  • Providing medications such as blood thinners or corticosteroids (to relieve inflamed joints)
  • Supplying antibiotics to control infection
  • Surgical intervention to remove affected, gangrenous tissue
  • Amputation of the effective extremity (if severity and extent warrants. This form of treatment is used only in extreme cases)


Many children will require reconstruction, rehabilitation, and prosthetics after excisional surgery or amputation. These are areas in which Shriners Hospitals excels.


To learn more about purpura fulminans, and its treatments, we encourage you to reach out by calling us at 617-722-3000.

If you’d like to support the children who receive treatment at Shriners-Boston, please consider making a donation to the hospital.

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