What is necrotizing fasciitis?
Necrotizing fasciitis, often reported as ‘flesh eating disease’ in the media, is a rare, bacterial infection. The bacteria that causes this infection can enter the body in a multitude of ways. This include cuts, scrapes, burns, insect bites, puncture wounds, and surgical wounds. Although the bacteria typically enters through a break in the skin, it can also enter after injuries that do not break the skin, like blunt trauma.
This infection spreads quickly and can be life-threatening. Serious complications can arise from necrotizing fasciitis, so prompt treatment is key.
What are the symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis?
This infection spreads very quickly, so symptoms will advance rapidly. They begin with a red and swollen area of skin, fever, and severe pain. As the infection advances, so will the area of red, swollen skin. Later symptoms include ulcers, blisters, black spots on the skin, changes in skin color, pus, oozing, dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea, and nausea.
Serious complications can also arise due to this infection. Shock, sepsis, and organ failure are all issues that can come from necrotizing fasciitis if it is left untreated. Dead tissue has to be surgically removed from the body, which can result in the loss of limbs and severe scarring.
What causes necrotizing fasciitis?
While more than one type of bacteria can cause this infection, the most common cause is group A Streptococcus. This bacteria will enter the body, usually through an open wound. It is very rarely contagious.
Anyone can get this infection, but there are people who are at a higher risk than others. People with diabetes, kidney disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and cancer all have a higher likelihood of having necrotizing fasciitis.
How is necrotizing fasciitis diagnosed?
Diagnosis can be difficult for necrotizing fasciitis, as it appears similar to other infections in the early stages. A physical examination of the wound typically leads to a diagnosis, but sometimes further tests are needed to confirm this diagnosis. A biopsy of the affected area may be conducted. Doctors may also do blood work or imaging tests.
What are the treatments for necrotizing fasciitis?
Immediate treatment is important, as necrotizing fasciitis spreads quickly. Antibiotics to stop the infection and surgery to remove the affected are are usually the first steps. It is common for one with this infection to undergo multiple surgeries to remove dead tissue in multiple areas of the body. In very severe cases a blood transfusion may be necessary.
There are also ways to help prevent this infection. Good wound care is important to avoid necrotizing fasciitis. Cleaning even minor injuries with soap and water is important, followed by covering all open wounds with clean, dry bandages. Washing hands often also helps to prevent infection of open wounds. If one does have an open wound, he or she should avoid spending time in hot tubs, swimming pools, and natural bodies of water.