Hopkins ABX Guide

Necrotizing Fasciitis

What is Necrotizing Fasciitis?

Also known as flesh-eating infection, necrotizing fasciitis is a very serious infection that destroys the skin and tissue, and progresses very rapidly. It is fatal for approximately 25% of patients, many of which are in good to satisfactory health before contracting the infection. Fortunately, necrotizing fasciitis is very rare. In Britain, about 500 cases are reported per year.

What Causes Necrotizing Fasciitis?

Necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by different types of bacteria which usually cause relatively mild infections and are easily treated with antibiotics. But in case of necrotizing fasciitis, the same bacteria cause a very serious infection by producing toxins that rapidly destroy the tissue. Group A Streptococcus is responsible for most cases of this severe bacterial infection but it can also be caused by Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella and others, usually after entering a cut, insect bite or wound on the skin. However, the infection can also be developed by individuals without a single break in the skin.

What are the Symptoms of Necrotizing Fasciitis?

Symptoms of this infection are in the beginning similar to other, less serious skin infections: redness and pain at the site of the wound or skin break. Soon, however, the pain gets very severe. Much more severe that it is normal for similar size skin infections. Skin changes and pain can also be accompanied by fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. The infection can start in any part of the body but it most often affects the extremities. Since it progresses very rapidly, necrotizing fasciitis quickly becomes life-threatening.

Who is at Increased Risk of Necrotizing Fasciitis?

As mentioned above, necrotizing fasciitis is often developed by individuals who are perfectly healthy. However, a few factors have been identified to increase the risk of this dangerous bacterial infection. They include a weakened immune system, some underlying medical conditions such as cancer and diabetes, recovering from a viral skin infection such as chickenpox, having wounds or cuts on the skin and taking certain medications such as steroids.

How is Necrotizing Fasciitis Treated?

Necrotizing fasciitis requires immediate medical help to prevent life-threatening complications. Treatment involves antibiotic therapy to kill the disease-causing bacteria and surgical removal of the infected tissue - the extent depends on how far the infection has progressed. Severe cases may require limb amputation or/and organ removal to prevent death.