SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.48 issue5Listeria monocytogenes peritonitis in cirrhotic patients: first description in BrazilCandida albicans skin abscess author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Services on Demand




Related links


Revista do Instituto de Medicina Tropical de São Paulo

On-line version ISSN 1678-9946

Rev. Inst. Med. trop. S. Paulo vol.48 no.5 São Paulo Sept./Oct. 2006 



Rhinoscleroma: eight Peruvian cases


Rinoscleroma: oito casos peruanos



Ciro MaguiñaI; Juan Cortez-EscalanteIII; Fernando Osores-PlengeI; Jorge CentenoI; Humberto GuerraI; Manuel MontoyaI; Jaime CokII; Cleudson CastroIII

IInstituto de Medicina Tropical "Alexander von Humboldt", Lima, Peru
IIDepartamento de Anatomía Patológica del Hospital "Cayetano Heredia", Lima, Peru
IIINúcleo de Medicina Tropical, Universidade de Brasília, Brasilia, DF, Brasil

Correspondence to




Rhinoscleroma is a rare infection in developed countries; although, it is reported with some frequency in poorer regions such as Central Africa, Central and South America, Eastern and Central Europe, Middle East, India and Indonesia. Nowadays, rhinoscleroma may be erroneously diagnosed as mucocutaneos leishmaniasis, leprosy, paracoccidioidomycosis, rhinosporidiasis, late syphilis, neoplasic diseases or other upper airway diseases. From 1996 to 2003, we diagnosed rhinoscleroma in eight patients attended in the Dermatologic and Transmitted Diseases service of "Cayetano Heredia" National Hospital, in Lima, Peru. The patients presented airway structural alterations producing nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal and, in one patient, laryngeal stenosis. Biopsy samples revealed large vacuolated macrophages (Mikulicz cells) in all patients. Ciprofloxacin 500 mg bid for four to 12 weeks was used in seven patients and oxytetracycline 500 mg qid for six weeks in one patient. After follow-up for six to 12 months the patients did not show active infection or relapse, however, all of them presented some degree of upper airway stenosis. These cases are reported because of the difficulty diagnosing the disease and the success of antibiotic treatment.

Keywords: Rhinoscleroma; Scleroma; Klebsiella rhinoscleromatis; Chronic granulomatous infection.


O rinoscleroma é uma infecção rara nos países desenvolvidos, no entanto, tem sido relatado com alguma freqüência nas regiões pobres da África Central, América Central e do Sul, Europa Central e Oriental, Oriente Médio, Índia e Indonésia. A doença pode ser erroneamente diagnosticada como leishmaniose mucocutânea, hanseníase, paracoccidioidomicose, rinosporidiose, sífilis tardia, neoplasias ou outras doenças que afetam a via respiratória superior. No período de 1996 a 2003, foram diagnosticados oito casos de rinoscleroma no serviço de Doenças Dermatológicas e Infecciosas do Hospital Nacional "Cayetano Heredia", em Lima, Peru. Os pacientes apresentaram alterações estruturais das vias respiratórias, caracterizadas por estenose da nasofaringe e orofaringe, e em um paciente, a nível da laringe. As biópsias mostraram macrófagos com grandes vacúolos (células de Mikulicz). A ciprofloxacina 500 mg de 12/12 horas por quatro a 12 semanas foi usada em sete pacientes e oxitetraciclina 500 mg de 6/6 horas por seis semanas em um paciente. Durante o acompanhamento por seis a 12 meses todos os pacientes apresentaram cura clínica, sem recaída, embora exibissem algum grau de estenose na via respiratória superior. O motivo do relato deve-se ao fato desta doença constituir um grande desafio diagnóstico e pelo sucesso alcançado com o tratamento antibiótico.




Rhinoscleroma is a slowly progressive, chronic and granulomatous bacterial disease that usually affects the respiratory tract mucosa. Most of the cases have been reported from poorer regions such as Central Africa, Central and South America, Eastern and Central Europe, Middle East, India and Indonesia. In recent years, some cases in non-endemic areas were reported, explained by the increased migration of the population over the world5. Rhinoscleroma is an ancient disease. It is thought that it was frequent in the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in Central America (300 to 600 years AD)20. In 1870, Ferdinand von Hebra carried out a clear description of the disease; some years later, Johann von Mikulicz considered that it was a inflammatory disease and described the typical foamy cells (large histiocytes - Mikulicz cells). In 1882, von Frisch identified the etiologic agent now known as Klebsiella rhinoscleromatis29.

Three overlapping stages were described in rhinoscleroma: Catarrhal-atrophic (sometimes called ozaena), granulomatous (proliferative or nodular) and sclerotic (cicatricial or fibrotic). During the catarrhal stage there are foul smelling purulent nasal discharges and nasal obstruction; physical examination may demonstrate atrophy and crusting of the nasal mucosa or hyperemia and exudates in the respiratory tract mucosa. In the granulomatous stage there are epistaxis, nasal deformity, hoarseness, anosmia and anesthesia of the soft palate; physical examination may find a bluish red and rubbery granulomatous lesion which evolves into a pale hard granulomatous mass. Sclerotic stage symptoms are similar to the previous stage; on physical examination the granulomatous lesions are surrounded by dense fibrotic tissue. Most patients are diagnosed in the granulomatous stage, because they are more symptomatic and other organs besides the nose may be involved5.

At present, rhinoscleroma is a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge due to its chronic course and need for prolonged treatment. In addition, the disease may be mistakenly diagnosed as neoplasic disease, mucocutaneos leishmaniasis, leprosy, paracoccidiodomycosis, rhinosporidiasis, late syphilis, etc35.

Herein, we report eight cases of Rhinoscleroma from Peru and review the main aspect of the disease.



The patients were seen in the Dermatologic and Transmitted Diseases and Otorhinolaryngologic services of "Cayetano Heredia" National Hospital from January 1996 to March 2003. All of them were evaluated clinically and by nasopharyngolaryngoscopy. Samples were collected for pathologic and microbiological examinations. Warthin Starry and haematoxylin - eosin stains were used to examine the biopsy samples. Histopathological findings were classified as follows: A) Catarrhal - atrophic stage: squamous metaplasia, subepithelial infiltrate of neutrophils and some granulation tissue. B) Granulomatous stage: atrophy or hyperplasia, showing an infiltrate of chronic inflammatory cells, monocytes, lymphocytes and histiocytes. "Mikulicz cells" could be observed as large histiocytes with numerous vacuoles containing viable or non-viable bacteria. "Russell bodies" were visualized as eosinophilic structures within the cytoplasm of plasma cells. C) Sclerotic stage: large amount of fibrous and cicatricial tissues and few or no Mikulicz cells or Russell bodies. The histologic hallmark for diagnosis of rhinoscleroma is the sub-epithelial presence of Mikulicz cells. Patients were followed up for six months to one year.



Patients were born in different cities of Peru, although, seven of them were living in Lima city for several years. The age range was 25 to 66 years and six (75%) were female. The most frequent symptoms were purulent rhinorrhea (six, 75%), some degree of breathing difficulty (five, 62.5%), nasal obstruction (four, 50%), disphony (four, 50%) and facial pain (three, 37.5%). The symptomatic periods before diagnosis were variable, from six months to 12 years. Endoscopy showed several lesions, granulomatous infiltration in the choanas in four patients (50%), larynx (three, 37.5%) and oropharynx (two, 25%), crusting (four, 50%) and inflamed mucosal inside the nasal cavity (three, 37.5%), and oropharynx (three, 37.5%). Three patients (37.5%) were found with X ray opacity in the paranasal sinus. Histopathologically, six (75%) patients were classified in the granulomatous, one in catarrhal and one in sclerotic stages. Culture was positive in three patients in the granulomatous stage, the isolates were Klebsiella rhinoscleromatis, Klebsiella ozaenae and Klebsiella sp. Mikulicz cells were found in the biopsies of all the patients. Ciprofloxacin, 500 mg bid, for four to 12 weeks (median of six weeks) was prescribed in seven patients and oxytetracycline, 500 mg qid, for six weeks was used in one patient (Table 1). After that, all patients had inactive infection during the follow-up without any relapses. All, however, remained with some degree of upper airway stenosis. After therapy, two patients developed other upper respiratory tract infections by common germs several times and needed additional antibiotics and surgical debridement.



The sixth patient was a pregnant woman who arrived to the emergency service with cyanosis and acute respiratory distress, due to laryngeal obstruction, and that needed an emergency tracheostomy.



The accepted of rhinoscleroma causative agent is Klebsiella rhinoscleromatis, a Gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria with 2.5 µm in length which, along with K. pneumoniae, K. ozaenae, K. oxytoca and others, belong to the family Enterobacteriaceae. K. rhinoscleromatis has a complex capsule cover and many fimbriae, which are responsible for the microorganism's ability to adhere to host cells33.

Rhinoscleroma always affects the respiratory tract and sometimes involves other organs nearby. The nose is affected in 95% to 100% of cases, often bilaterally and asymmetrically, the pharynx in 18% to 43%, larynx in 15% to 80%, trachea in 12%, and bronchi in 2% to 7%2,22,34. Other affected organs include the paranasal sinuses2, eustachian tubes19, middle ear1, orbital tissues26, skin close to the affected mucosas17, and the brain9. Our patients presented similar frequencies; the nose was affected in 87.5%, pharynx in 50%, larynx in 75% and trachea in 37.5%.

Humans are the only identified host of K. rhinoscleromatis23. This bacterium is not a typical resident in the airway tract and the skin microbiota, so that it has been isolated only from lesions of the human airway mucosa14. Transmission results most probably through large amount of contaminated airborne particles, which are expelled by coughing and sneezing, or by contact with contaminated fomites22.

Several risk factors have been associated with rhinoscleroma. This disease is more frequent among people in the second or third decades of life, living in crowded conditions, rural areas, with poor hygienic and nutritional conditions19 such as anemia for iron deficiency3 and in women (female:male ratio is 13:1)21. The presence of K. rhinoscleromatis is not enough for the development of the disease; since contact for many years of a patient with healthy individuals may not necessarily bring about the infection in the latter. This has led to the suggestion that susceptibility of the host is important to develop the disease18. Cellular immunity is probably impaired. Peripherally there is a reduction in CD4+ lymphocytes and a significant elevation in the numbers of CD8+ lymphocytes, so the CD4/ CD8 ratio into the lesion is decreased, possibly inducing a diminished or altered T-cell response10. The humoral immunity response does not control the infection, probably due to the intracellular nature and copius mucin coat of the bacteria, or due to the non specific nature antibody of the response of the host. Whether these defects are acquired after infection or already present in predisposed individuals remains uncertain24.

Chronicity of the disease is still not well understood. After mucosal invasion by the bacteria, the acute inflammatory response is inefficient, the neutrophils phagocityze Klebsiella, but appear to die too soon, before digestion finishes, releasing viable bacteria. Histiocytes continue with phagocytosis, and their phagosomes undergo massive dilatation. They thus become Mikulicz cells, which are unable to destroy K. rhinoscleromatis, and eventually rupture, releasing the bacteria into the interstitium12. The altered proportion of CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocytes in the lesion may produce disabled macrophages, allowing bacterial multiplication inside them and an ineffectual delayed type hypersensitivity response23. K. rhinoscleromatis possess several important resistance characteristics such as a complex capsule covered by fimbriae, pleomorphism and the ability to grow vigorously both intra and extracellularly12.

Specific diagnosis is made by the bacterial isolation by culture on blood or MacConkey agar (positive in 50% to 60%) and by identification of histopathologic features and bacillis in biopsied lesions biopsies, using periodic acid-Schiff (PAS), Giemsa and Warthin - Starry stain5. These stains combined with immunoperoxidase staining using Klebsiella capsular type 3 antiserum increase accuracy and specificity of both histological and bacteriological diagnoses29. Radiography, computed tomography or resonance imaging rarely lead to diagnosis of rhinoscleroma, although they are helpful in defining the extension of the disease25.

Rhinoscleroma treatment involves prolonged antibiotic therapy, in the attempt to eradicate K. rhinoscleromatis, because the relapse rate is high. In vitro, these bacteria are inhibited by clinically achievable concentrations of amoxicillin - clavulanate, chloramphenicol, trimethoprim - sulfamethoxazole, cephalosporins, streptomycin, tetracyclines and ciprofloxacin32. However, in vivo, antibiotics with demonstrated efficacy are streptomycin, doxycycline, tetracycline, rifampicin, second- and third-generation cephalosporin, sulfonamides, clofazimine, ciprofloxacin11 and ofloxacin31. Because K. rhinoscleromatis is an intracellular bacteria prolonged courses of rifampicin and fluroquinolones would theoretically be most effective, due to their high concentration in macrophages22,37. BORGSTEIN et al.(1993), reported that 89% of culture of the biopsy of the lesion was negative two months after the use of ciprofloxacin for four weeks, and after six months clinical improvement was significant and the relapse rate was low11. However, the duration of antibiotic therapy with ciprofloxacin has not been established, different author recommend using for six weeks to six months or longer, until repeated cultures and histological examination are negative30. Long-term follow-up is required to identify early relapse8,22. Topical antibiotics such as acriflavine 2% or rifampin have been used with significant results7,19. Most of our patients used ciprofloxacin 500 mg bid for a period of four to 12 weeks with good results and no one relapsed during six to 12 months of follow-up, which agrees with other reports from Latin America15,28.

Granulomatous tissue, crusting and fibrotic scarring are lesions that produce several degrees of airway obstruction and cosmetic deformity, so that surgical therapy is indicated in some cases36. Surgical procedures must be postponed until no residual disease activity is evident in the tissues to be debrided; otherwise there is high risk of relapse or iatrogenic dissemination22. Carbon dioxide surgical laser showed to be of value27. Tracheobronchial stenosis could be managed by bronchoscopic dilatation13. Severe acute respiratory failure could require emergency tracheostomy, close observation and oral or intravenous corticosteroids4,38. Pregnant women could be a special group affected with serious airway obstruction by granulomatous infiltration into the laryngotracheal mucosa6. The only severe case in our report was a pregnant woman with long-standing disease (12 years) involving glottal stenosis who needed tracheostomy.

After therapy, patients remain with some sequels which vary in seriousness that depend on the organs affected, such as hoarseness and stridor because of glottal/subglottal stenosis, dysphonia due to fibrosis of the vocal folds fibrosis, olfactory disorders produced by nasal mucosa scarring. Early diagnosis and prolonged therapy are critical to avoid their late sequelae4. Case fatality is extremely low in rhinoscleroma38.

Prophylaxis is based on the improvement of sanitary conditions and general living conditions of poor people in endemic areas16.



Rhinoscleroma is a multifactorial disease with some identified risk factors, more frequent in middle aged women, living in rural areas with poor hygiene and nutritional conditions. Patients show a deficient immuno-cellular response which could be acquired by the infection or to other associated risk factor such as malnutrition, or could be constitutional. It is a long-standing disease that begins in the nasal mucosa and extends to other respiratory tract organs, producing airway obstruction and sometimes threatens the patient life. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to eradicate K. rhinoscleromatis and limit the fibrotic scarring sequelae. Fluoroquinolones are well-tolerated drugs with low incidences of adverse effects when used for long periods. There is no evidence of relapse after quinolone treatment, indicating that they are good therapy, although there have been no formal clinical trials to evaluate their efficacy.



1. ABOU-BIEH, A. & BEDAWY, A.E. - Otoscleroma. J. Laryngol. Otol., 89: 545-547, 1975.         [ Links ]

2. ABOU-SEIF, S.G.; BAKY, F.A.; EL-EBRASHY, F. & GAAFAR, H.A. - Scleroma of the upper respiratory passages: a CT study. J. Laryngol. Otol., 105: 198-202, 1991.         [ Links ]

3. AKHNOUKH, S. & SAAD, E.F. - Iron-deficiency in atrophic rhinitis & scleroma. Indian J. med. Res., 85: 576-579, 1987.         [ Links ]

4. AMOILS, C.P. & SHINDO, M.L. - Laryngotracheal manifestations of rhinoscleroma. Ann. Otol. Rhinol. Laryngol., 105: 336-340, 1996.         [ Links ]

5. ANDRACA, R.; EDSON, R.S. & KERN, E.B. - Rhinoscleroma: a growing concern in the United States? Mayo Clinic experience. Mayo Clin. Proc., 68: 1151-1157, 1993.         [ Links ]

6. ARMSTRONG, W.B.; PESKIND, S.P.; BRESSLER, K.L. & CROCKETT, D.M. - Airway obstruction secondary to rhinoscleroma during pregnancy. Ear Nose Throat J., 74: 768-773, 1995.         [ Links ]

7. AUGUST, C. & HUSTERT, B. - Nasal scleroma (rhinoscleroma): pathological and clinical results. Pathologe, 19: 384-387, 1998.         [ Links ]

8. BADIA, L. & LUND, V.J. - A case of rhinoscleroma treated with ciprofloxacin. J. Laryngol. Otol., 115: 220-222, 2001.         [ Links ]

9. BAHRI, H.C.; BASSI, N.K. & ROHATGI, M.S. - Scleroma with intracranial extension. Ann. Otol. Rhinol. Laryngol., 81: 856-859, 1972.         [ Links ]

10. BERRON, P.; BERRON, R. & ORTIZ-ORTIZ, L. - Alterations in the T-lymphocyte subpopulation in patients with rhinoscleroma. J. clin. Microbiol., 26: 1031-1033, 1988.         [ Links ]

11. BORGSTEIN, J.; SADA, E. & CORTES, R. - Ciprofloxacin for rhinoscleroma and ozena. Lancet, 342: 122, 1993.         [ Links ]

12. CANALIS, R.F. & ZAMBONI, L. - An interpretation of the structural changes responsible for the chronicity of rhinoscleroma. Laryngoscope, 111: 1020-1026, 2001.         [ Links ]

13. CHHAJED, P.N.; MALOUF, M.A. & GLANVILLE, A.R. - Bronchoscopic dilatation in the management of benign (non-transplant) tracheobronchial stenosis. Intern. Med. J., 31: 512-516, 2001.         [ Links ]

14. CHILLER, K.; SELKIN, B.A. & MURAKAWA, G.J. - Skin microflora and bacterial infections of the skin. J. invest. Derm. Symp. Proc., 6: 170-174, 2001.         [ Links ]

15. FAJARDO-DOLCI, G.; CHAVOLLA, R.; LAMADRID-BAUTISTA, E. & RIZO-ALVAREZ, J. - Laryngeal scleroma. J. Otolaryngol., 28: 229-231, 1999.         [ Links ]

16. FERNANDEZ-VOZMEDIANO, J.M.; ARMARIO, J.C. & GONZALEZ, A. - Rhinoscleroma in three siblings. Pediat. Derm., 21: 134-138, 2004.         [ Links ]

17. GAAFAR, H.A. & El ASSI, M.H. - Skin affection in rhinoscleroma. A clinical, histological and electron microscopic study on four patients. Acta Otolaryngol., 105: 494-499, 1988.         [ Links ]

18. GAAFAR, H.A.; BASSIOUNY, M.; EL-MOFTY, M.; BADOUR, N.M. & NOUR, Y.A. - Experimental intravenous inoculation of Klebsiella rhinoscleromatis bacilli in albino rats: a histopathological and bacteriological study. Acta Otolaryngol., 120: 279-285, 2000.         [ Links ]

19. GAMEA, A.M. & EL-TATAWI, F.A. - The effect of rifampicin on rhinoscleroma: an electron microscopic study. J. Laryngol. Otol., 104: 772-777, 1990.         [ Links ]

20. GOLDMAN, L. - Pre-Columbian rhinoscleroma. Arch. Derm., 115: 106-107, 1979.         [ Links ]

21. HART, C.A. & RAO, S.K. - Rhinoscleroma. J. med. Microbiol., 49: 395-396, 2000.         [ Links ]

22. KESCHNER, D.; KELLEY, T.F. & WONG, B.J. - Transglottic scleroma. Amer. J. Otolaryngol., 19: 407-411, 1998.         [ Links ]

23. KIM, N.R.; HAN, J. & KWON, T.Y. - Nasal rhinoscleroma in a nonendemic area: a case report. J. Korean med. Sci., 18: 455-458, 2003.         [ Links ]

24. KWONG, K.Y.; STOTTS, C.L. & JONES, C.A. - Persistent sinusitis and refractory asthma in a 10-year-old boy. Ann. Allergy Asthma Immunol., 77: 21-26, 1996.         [ Links ]

25. Le HIR, P.; MARSOT-DUPUCH, K.; BIGEL, P. et al. - Rhinoscleroma with orbital extension: CT and MRI. Neuroradiology, 38: 175-178, 1996.         [ Links ]

26. LUBIN, J.R.; JALLOW, S.E.; WILSON, W.R.; GROVE, A.S. & ALBERT, D.M. - Rhinoscleroma with exophthalmos: a case report. Brit. J. Ophthal., 65: 14-17, 1981.         [ Links ]

27. MAHER, A.I.; EL-KASHLAN, H.K.; SOLIMAN, Y. & GALAL, R. - Rhinoscleroma: management by carbon dioxide surgical laser. Laryngoscope, 100: 783-788, 1990.         [ Links ]

28. MÉNDEZ G., O. & LÓPEZ C., A. - Ciprofloxacina en el tratamiento de la rinoescleroma respiratoria. Rev. Sanid. milit. (Méx.), 55: 256-260, 2001.         [ Links ]

29. MEYER, P.R.; SHUM, T.K.; BECKER, T.S. & TAYLOR, C.R. - Scleroma (Rhinoscleroma). A histologic immunohistochemical study with bacteriologic correlates. Arch. Path. Lab. Med., 107: 377-383, 1983.         [ Links ]

30. MONTOYA, M.; MAGUIÑA, C.; CENTENO, J. et al. - Rinoescleroma: reporte de cinco casos clínicos. Bol. Soc. peru. Med. interna, 13: 105-110, 2000.         [ Links ]

31. PAUL, C.; PIALOUX, G.; DUPONT, B. et al. - Infection due to Klebsiella rhinoscleromatis in two patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus. Clin. infect. Dis., 16: 441-442, 1993.         [ Links ]

32. PERKINS, B.A.; HAMILL, R.J.; MUSHER, D.M. & O'HARA, C. - In vitro activities of streptomycin and 11 oral antimicrobial agents against clinical isolates of Klebsiella rhinoscleromatis. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother., 36: 1785-1787, 1992.         [ Links ]

33. PODSCHUN, R. & ULLMANN, U. - Klebsiella spp. as nosocomial pathogens: epidemiology, taxonomy, typing methods, and pathogenicity factors. Clin. Microbiol. Rev., 11: 589-603, 1998.         [ Links ]

34. RAZEK, A.A. & ELASFOUR, A.A. - MR appearance of rhinoscleroma. AJNR. Amer. J. Neuroradiol., 20: 575-578, 1999.         [ Links ]

35. RODRÍGUEZ, G.; SARMIENTO, L. & HERNÁNDEZ, C.A. - Leishmaniasis mucosa y otras lesiones destructivas centrofaciales. Biomédica (Bogotá), 14: 215-229, 1994.         [ Links ]

36. TAHA, A.; FATT-HI, A.; KADIR, M.A. & SOLIMAN, T. - Surgical management of cicatricial post-scleromatous sub-glottic stenosis. J. Laryngol. Otol., 95: 827-833, 1981.         [ Links ]

37. VILLAR, M.; VALLEJOS, M.P.; ARREGUI, R.; VEGA, C. & MEDINA, D. - Rinoescleroma, una enfermedad rara en Chile: reporte de un caso clínico. Rev. Otorrinolaring. Cir. Cabeza Cuello, 64: 127, 2004.         [ Links ]

38. YIGLA, M.; BEN-IZHAK, O.; OREN, I.; HASHMAN, N. & LEJBKOWICZ, F. - Laryngotracheobronchial involvement in a patient with nonendemic rhinoscleroma. Chest, 117: 1795-1798, 2000.         [ Links ]



Correspondence to:
Ciro Maguiña Vargas M.D.
Instituto de Medicina Tropical "Alexander von Humbolt"
Apartado Postal 4314, Lima 100, Perú
Phone: 00 51 1 4823903; 00 51 1 4823910. Fax: 00 51 1 4823404

Received: 23 November 2005
Accepted: 27 April 2006

Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License