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Background: Older adults with bacterial skin infections may present with atypical symptoms, making diagnosis difficult. There is limited authoritative guidance on how older adults in the community present with bacterial skin infections. To date there have been no systematic reviews assessing the diagnostic value of symptoms and signs in identifying bacterial skin infections in older adults in the community. Methods: We searched Medline and Medline in process, Embase and Web of Science, from inception to September 2017. We included cohort and cross-sectional studies assessing the diagnostic accuracy of symptoms and signs in predicting bacterial skin infections in adults in primary care aged over 65 years. The QUADAS-2 tool was used to assess study quality. Results: We identified two observational studies of low-moderate quality, with a total of 7991 participants, providing data to calculate the diagnostic accuracy of 5 unique symptoms in predicting bacterial skin infections. The presence of wounds [LR+: 7.93 (CI 4.81-13.1)], pressure sores [LR+: 4.85 (CI 2.18-10.8)] and skin ulcers [LR+: 6.26 (CI 5.49-7.13)] help to diagnose bacterial skin infections. The presence of urinary incontinence does not help to predict bacterial skin infections (LR + 's of 0.99 and 1.04; LR-'s of 0.96 and 1.04). Conclusions: Currently, there is insufficient evidence to inform the diagnosis of bacterial skin infections in older adults in the community; clinicians should therefore rely upon their clinical judgement and experience. Evidence from high quality primary care studies in older adults, including studies assessing symptoms traditionally associated with bacterial skin infections (e.g. erythema and warmth), is urgently needed to guide practice.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Geriatrics

Publication Date