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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Is it possible to prevent necrotizing fasciitis? Is necrotizing fasciitis contagious?

Necrotizing fasciitis does not begin unless an infection has already started in tissue; immediate effective treatment of any infection is likely to prevent the disease. Further, anything that can help prevent infections will help prevent necrotizing fasciitis. Practices such as hand washing, checking extremities for cuts or wounds if you have diabetes, avoiding physical contact with people who carry MRSA, and good hygiene practices help prevent initial infections that may lead to flesh-eating disease. Immunosuppressed patients should be very careful not to get infections, and people with liver disease should avoid eating seafood that may be contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus. People with liver disease should not have any infections or cuts in the skin exposed to warm seawater to avoid necrotizing fasciitis caused by Vibrio vulnificus.

Physicians, surgeons, and other caregivers play an important role in prevention. Cases of necrotizing fasciitis may occur when surgical sites become infected. Consequently, physicians need to use sterile techniques when doing surgery and adhere to hospital practices such as glove and gown coverage to help prevent infection spread in hospitalized patients. Careful surgical techniques in sites that can easily become contaminated are required. Some examples of such sites are bowel surgery, episiotomy (surgically enlarging the vaginal outlet), and debridement with closure of traumatic wounds.

Necrotizing fasciitis is not usually contagious. However, it is possible for uninfected people to physically come into contact with some patients with the disease and become infected with an organism that may eventually cause necrotizing fasciitis. For example, a person could come in contact with a lesion containing MRSA organisms causing or contributing to the disease in another person and then become infected with MRSA. Transmission from one person to another usually requires direct contact with a patient or some item that can transfer organisms like MRSA to another person's skin; infection usually requires a skin break (cut or abrasion) for the organisms to establish an infection (cross-contamination of infected wounds).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/29/2016

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