Necrotizing fasciitis (NF), commonly known as flesh-eating disease or Flesh-eating bacteria syndrome, is a rare infection of the deeper layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues, easily spreading across the fascial plane within the subcutaneous tissue.
What is necrotizing fasciitis?
Necrotizing fasciitis is an infection caused by bacteria. It can destroy skin, fat, and the tissue covering the muscles within a very short time. The disease sometimes is called flesh-eating bacteria. When it occurs on the genitals, it is called Fournier gangrene.
Necrotizing fasciitis is very rare but serious. About 1 out of 4 people who get this infection die from it. Many people who get necrotizing fasciitis are in good health before they get the infection.
Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria) Risk Factors
Scientists do not know exactly why group A streptococcus causes only minor infections for some people, but poses a serious threat to others. However, some risk factors have been identified, including:
- A weakened immune system, which could be caused by such factors as disease (HIV infection, AIDS), cancer treatments (radiation and chemotherapy), or by taking anti-rejection drugs following an organ or bone-marrow transplant
- Chronic diseases, including heart, lung or liver disease
- Recent close contact with someone who has flesh-eating disease that was caused by GAS
- Chickenpox- it should be noted, however, that while flesh-eating disease is a complication of chickenpox in children, very few children with chickenpox will develop flesh-eating disease
Keep in mind that flesh-eating disease is very rare. Your chance of getting it is low, even when these risk factors are present.
How is Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria) diagnosed?
The doctor will diagnose your infection based on how suddenly your symptoms started and how quickly the infection is spreading. The infected tissue may be tested for bacteria. You also may need X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI to look for injury to your organs or to find out how much the infection has spread.
Treatment for Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria) Disease
- Surgery that removes infected tissue and fluids to stop the spread of infection. Surgery is almost always needed. Most people need several surgeries to control the infection. Removing limbs (amputation) or organs may be done to save the person’s life, depending on how severe the infection is and where it has spread.
- Medicines (such as antibiotics). These kill the bacteria causing the infection.
- Procedures to treat complications such as shock, breathing problems, and organ failure.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This can help prevent tissue death and promote healing.
How to Minimizing Your Risk for Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria)?
The following steps will help to minimize any risk that exists:
- Seek immediate medical attention if you have the symptoms of flesh-eating disease.
- If you have been in close contact with someone who has flesh-eating disease caused by GAS, consult your doctor. It may be a good idea to take antibiotics as a precaution.
- Take proper care of minor wounds and cuts. Wash the affected area in warm soapy water, and keep it clean and dry with a bandage.
Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) facts:
- Necrotizing fasciitis refers to a rapidly spreading infection, usually located in fascial planes of connective tissue that results in tissue death (necrosis).
- Different types of bacterial infection can cause necrotizing fasciitis.
- The majority of cases begin with an existing infection, most frequently on an extremity or in a wound.
- Necrotizing fasciitis is a serious condition that is often associated with sepsis and widespread organ failure.
- Treatment involves antibiotics and surgical debridement of the wound areas as well as supportive measures such as insertion of a breathing tube, intravenous administration of fluids, and drugs to support the cardiovascular system.