Flesh-Eating Bacterial Infection (Necrotizing Fasciitis)

What is a Flesh-Eating Bacterial Infection?

Flesh-eating bacterial infection is also known as Necrotizing Fasciitis and can be fatal if not treated immediately. The condition causes death to the body’s soft tissue, appears suddenly, spreads rapidly, and is rarely seen in children.

In the U.S. between 600 and 700 cases are diagnosed each year with about 25% to 30% of cases resulting in death. 70% of cases are reported among individuals who exhibit at least one of the following conditions: diabetes, immunosuppression, malignancies, substance abuse, and chronic systemic diseases. The gold standard for diagnosis is surgical exploration when Necrotizing Fasciitis is suspected. There are four types of flesh-eating bacterial infection.

The most common type is caused by a mixture of bacterial types and usually occurs at the sites of trauma or surgery, Type II is caused by Group A streptococciand usually appears on the neck, head, arms, or legs, Type III is caused by Vibrio vulnificus and enters the skin through puncture wounds from insects or fish in seawater, and Type IV is caused by a fungal infection.

What are the Symptoms of a Flesh-Eating Bacterial Infection?

Symptoms differ between people and some symptoms may not be as serious as others.

Symptoms include

Warm skin, fever, severe pain, chills, fatigue, diarrhea, severe drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness, toxic shock, intense thirst due to dehydration, vomiting, soreness that feels like a pulled muscle, red or purplish areas of swelling that spread rapidly, and ulcers, blisters, and black spots on the skin.

How is a Flesh-Eating Bacterial Infection Treated?

Once diagnosed treatment should occur immediately.

Treatment includes

Intravenous antibiotic therapy, medicine to raise blood pressure, sometimes amputation of affected limbs, skin grafts as needed, surgery to remove dead or damaged tissue in order tohalt the spread of the infection, blood transfusions, breathing aids and cardiac monitoring, hyperbaric oxygen therapy to preserve healthy tissue, and intravenous immunoglobulin to help the body fight the infection.

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Last Reviewed:
October 06, 2016
Last Updated:
August 09, 2017