This "flesh-eating” bacterial infection requires immediate medical care to avoid life-threatening consequences.

Sometimes nicknamed "flesh-eating bacteria," necrotizing fasciitis is a serious, yet rare, bacterial skin infection that spreads quickly.

It can cause loss of limbs, or even death, within a short period of time.

The condition can be caused by one or more kinds of bacteria that attack and kill the skin, fat just beneath the skin, and fasciae, which is thin tissue that encloses muscles or organs.

Because of the seriousness of the disease, prompt treatment is crucial.

Necrotizing fasciitis rarely spreads between people.

If you're healthy, have a strong immune system, and practice good hygiene and proper wound care, your chances of getting it are very low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Causes of Necrotizing Fasciitis

Necrotizing fasciitis occurs after a wound or injury — such as a cut, scrape, bruise, burn, or insect bite — becomes infected.

While anyone can get necrotizing fasciitis, most people who get it have other health problems that weaken their immune system and make it difficult for their body to fight infection.

These conditions may include diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, or other chronic health conditions.

Group A Streptococcus bacteria are considered the most common cause of necrotizing fasciitis. Some other bacteria that may cause the infection include:

  • Klebsiella
  • Clostridium
  • Bacteroides
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Aeromonas hydrophila

Necrotizing Fasciitis Symptoms

Symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis usually start within hours of an injury.

Early on, you may notice:

  • Discomfort near the injury
  • Worsening of the pain that seems unusual for the type of injury
  • Flu-like symptoms such as chills, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, general malaise, weakness, muscle pain, and fever
  • Swollen, red, or hot skin and tissue

As the condition worsens, symptoms may include:

  • Worsening of early symptoms
  • Dehydration and reduced urination
  • Drop in blood pressure and rapid heartbeat
  • All-over body rash that looks like a sunburn
  • Ulcers, blisters, or black spots on skin
  • Toxic shock (a life-threatening reaction)

If toxic shock occurs, the organs begin to shut down, and death may soon follow.

Necrotizing Fasciitis Treatment

Treatments for necrotizing fasciitis vary depending on a variety of factors, including the type of bacteria causing the condition and areas of the body affected.

Treatment options include:

  • Removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue
  • Antibiotics (including Cleocin (clindamycin), Vancocin (vancomycin), penicillin, or other drugs)
  • Amputation
  • Induced sedation and ventilation
  • Vacuum assisted closure, which helps draw wound edges together, remove infectious materials, and promote new tissue growth
  • Treatment for complications such as toxic shock, organ failure, or respiratory distress
  • Aggressive wound care and repeated lab tests
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Skin grafts

Once the infection is healed, your doctor may also recommend physical rehabilitation, prosthesis, and psychological or social support.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Necrotizing Fasciitis: A Rare Disease, Especially for the Healthy; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Get the Facts; National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation.


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