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.

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Who is at risk to get necrotizing fasciitis?

Theoretically, anyone with an infection has a small risk of getting necrotizing fasciitis; the risk begins to increase if the infection occurs in immunosuppressed individuals (for example, diabetics, elderly, infants, those with liver disease, or those taking immunosuppressive drugs such as chemotherapy for cancer). Visible infections (skin, hair follicles, fingernails, visible trauma sites) are more likely to be noticed and treated than some deep infections. Patients who have any deep infections (muscle, bone, joint, gastrointestinal) are at somewhat higher risk for the disease because the initial infection and subsequent spread is usually not as noticeable as more visible infections. Although pregnant women rarely develop the disease, the risk increases in the postpartum period, especially if the mother has diabetes and has procedures such as cesarean delivery (C-section) or episiotomy. Necrotizing enterocolitis occurs mainly in premature or sick infants and may be another variant of necrotizing fasciitis, but there is still controversy about the cause of this disease.

Necrotizing fasciitis has interesting demographics; more males than females are affected (about three to one), and Vibrio vulnificus infections seem limited to coastal areas with warm water where the organisms are found associated with seafood and contaminated water.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/17/2016
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