Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Disease)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Discover the causes, symptoms and treatment of a flesh-eating bacterial infection (necrotizing fasciitis).

What Is a "Flesh-Eating" Bacterial Infection?

What Are Early Symptoms of Flesh-Eating Disease?

The early stage of necrotizing fasciitis is characterized by symptoms of

  • redness,
  • swelling, and
  • pain in the affected area.
  • Blisters may be seen in the involved area of skin.
  • Fever, nausea, vomiting, and other flu-like symptoms are common.

Quick GuideBacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

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 of an infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria involves rapid antibiotic administration and/or 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.
  • Good hygiene and wound care can reduce the chance of developing the disease; necrotizing fasciitis is not usually contagious but it is possible to transmit infectious agents to other people (cross-contaminations of wounds, for example).
  • Immunosuppressed individuals (for example, diabetics, elderly, infants, those with liver disease, alcoholics, or those taking immunosuppressive drugs such as chemotherapy for cancer) are at higher risk to develop the disease.
  • The prognosis depends on how fast the infection is diagnosed and treated and the patient’s response to treatments; outcomes usually range from fair to poor with complications including tissue loss and or amputation of limbs.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/29/2016

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