How can I tell if my febrile patient who uses IV drugs had cotton fever?

Although IV drug use (IVDU) is associated with febrile illness of numerous etiologies (eg, soft tissue infections, pneumonia, bacteremia, endocarditis), certain features of a febrile illness may be helpful in considering cotton fever (CF) as the cause.1-3

First, onset of fever—often associated with chills, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, headache, abdominal pain and myalgias—in CF is usually manifest within 10-30 minutes of drug injection. Second, infectious disease workup, including blood cultures and chest radiograph, are unrevealing despite clinical signs of systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), such as leukocytosis, tachypnea and tachycardia. Third, symptoms and clinical signs of inflammation usually resolve or improve within 6-12 h of onset (less commonly up to 24-48 h). Nevertheless, CF remains a diagnosis of exclusion.

As for the cause of CF, the most widely-held theory revolves around the endotoxin of Pentoea agglomerans (formerly Enterobacter agglomerans), a gram-negative rod that colonizes cotton plants. Since cotton is often used as a filter during injection of illicit substances, any endotoxin present in the cotton is also injected resulting in abrupt onset of a febrile illness. Of note, the toxin is water soluble and heating (often part of the preparation of the drug) enhances its toxic effect.3


  1. Zerr AM, Ku K, Kara A. Cotton Fever: a condition self-diagnosed by IV drug users. JABFM 2016;29: 276-279.PDF
  2. Xie Y, Pope BA, Hunter AJ. Cotton fever: does the patient know best? J Gen Intern Med 31:442-4. PDF
  3. Torka P, Gill S. Cotton fever: an evanescent process mimicking sepsis in an intravenous drug abuser. J Emerg Med 2013;44:e385-e387. PDF
How can I tell if my febrile patient who uses IV drugs had cotton fever?

Is it possible to have acute pancreatitis with normal serum lipase?

Yes! Although an elevated serum lipase has a negative predictive value of 94%-100% for acute pancreatitis (1), there are ample reports in the literature of patients with CT findings of pancreatitis in the presence of abdominal symptoms but with normal serum lipase and/or amylase (2,3).

A case series and review of literature of acute pancreatitis with normal lipase and amylase failed to reveal any specific risk factors for such observation (2). More specifically, the etiologies of acute pancreatitis in the reported cases have varied, including drug-induced, cholelithiasis, alcohol, hypertriglyceridemia, and postoperative causes.

But what accounts for this phenomenon? Many cases have been associated with the first bout of pancreatitis without evidence of pancreatic calcifications which makes the possibility of a “burned-out” pancreas without sufficient acinar cells to release lipase as a frequent cause unlikely. Other potential explanations for normal lipase in acute pancreatitis have included measurement of serum lipase at a very early phase of the disease before significant destruction of acinar cells has occurred (increases in 3-6 h, peaks at 24 h [4]) and more rapid renal clearance of serum lipase due to tubular dysfunction (2).

Of note, unlike amylase, lipase is totally reabsorbed by renal tubules under normal conditions (5). Thus, it’s conceivable that even a reversible tubular dysfunction may lead to increased clearance of serum lipase and potentially lower its levels.
1. Ko K, Tello LC, Salt J. Acute pancreatitis with normal amylase and lipase. The Medicine Forum. 2011;11 Article 4.
2. Singh A, Shrestha M. Acute pancreatitis with normal amylase and lipase-an ED dilemma. Am J Emerg Med 2016;940.e5-940.e7.
3. Limon O, Sahin E, Kantar FU, et al. A rare entity in ED: normal lipase level in acute pancreatitis. Turk J Emerg Med 2016;16:32-34.
4. Shah AM, Eddi R, Kothari ST, et al. Acute pancreatitis with normal serum lipase: a case series. J Pancreas (Online) 2010 July 5;11:369-72. PDF
5. Lott JA, Lu CJ. Lipase isoforms and amylase isoenzymes: assays and application in the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. Clin Chem 1991;37:361-68.
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Is it possible to have acute pancreatitis with normal serum lipase?

What is the significance of Terry’s nails in my hospitalized patient?

Terry’s nails were first described in 1954 in patients with hepatic cirrhosis (prevalence 82%, majority related to alcohol abuse) (1). Since then, they have been reported in a variety of other conditions, including adult-onset diabetes mellitus (AODM), chronic congestive heart failure, chronic renal failure, pulmonary tuberculosis, and Reiter’s syndrome (2).

A 1984 study found Terry’s nails in 25% of hospitalized patients (3).  In this study, cirrhosis, chronic congestive heart failure, and AODM were significantly associated with Terry’s nails, while pulmonary tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer were not. The presence of Terry’s nails may be particularly concerning in patients 50 y of age or younger as it increases the relative risk of cirrhosis, chronic congestive heart failure or AODM by 5-fold (18-fold for cirrhosis alone) in this age group (3).

Terry’s nails should be distinguished from Lindsay’s nails or “half and half” nails. Although both nail abnormalities are characterized by an opaque white proximal portion, Terry’s nails have a thinner distal pink to brown transverse band no more than 3 mm wide (3) (Fig 1), while the same anomaly is wider and occupies 20%-60% of the nail bed in Lindsay’s nails (Fig 2). Of interest, Lindsay’s nails have been reported in up to 40% of patients with chronic kidney disease (4,5).


1. Terry R. White nails in hepatic cirrhosis. Lancet 1954;266:757-59. 
2. Nia AM, Ederer S, Dahlem K, et al. Terry’s nails: a window to systemic diseases. Am J Med 2011;124:603-604. 
3. Holzberg M, Walker HK. Terry’s nails: revised definitions and new correlations. Lancet 1984;1(8382):896-99. 
4. Pitukweerakul S, Pilla S. Terry’s nails and Lindsay’s nails: Two nail abnormalities in chronic systemic diseases. J Gen Intern Med 31;970. 
5. Gagnon AL, Desai T. Dermatological diseases in patients with chronic kidney disease 2013;2:104-109.

Figure 1. Terry’s nails in a patient with end-stage liver disease

Figure 2. Lindsay’s nails in a patient with chronic kidney disease

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What is the significance of Terry’s nails in my hospitalized patient?