What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis?
Necrotizing fasciitis is
a type of soft tissue infection. It can destroy the tissue in your skin and
muscles as well as subcutaneous tissue, which is the tissue beneath your skin.
Necrotizing fasciitis is most commonly caused by an infection
with group A Streptococcus, commonly
known as “flesh-eating bacteria.” This is the fastest moving form of the
infection. When this infection is caused by other types of bacteria, it
typically doesn’t progress as quickly and isn’t quite as dangerous.
This infection is rare in healthy people, but it’s possible to contract
this infection from even a tiny cut, so it’s important to be aware of the
symptoms if you’re at risk. You should see your doctor immediately if you have
symptoms or believe that you may have developed the infection. Because the
condition can progress quickly, it’s vital to treat it as early as possible.
What Are the Symptoms of Necrotizing Fasciitis?
The first symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis may not seem serious.
Your skin may become warm and red, and you may feel as if you’ve pulled a
muscle. You may even feel like you have the flu. You may also develop a painful,
red bump, which is typically small. However, the red bump doesn’t stay small. The
pain will become worse, and the affected area will grow quickly.
There may be oozing from the infected area, or it may become
discolored as it decays. Blisters, bumps, black dots, or other skin lesions
might appear. In the early stages of the infection, the pain will be much worse
than it looks.
Other symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis include:
- fever with chills and sweating
- infrequent urination
What Causes Necrotizing Fasciitis?
Several types of bacteria cause necrotizing fasciitis. The most
common and well-known type is group A
Streptococcus. However, this isn’t the only type of bacteria that can cause
this infection. Other bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis include:
To get necrotizing fasciitis, you need to have the bacteria in
your body. This typically occurs when the skin is broken. For example, the
bacteria can enter your body through a cut, scrape, or surgical wound. These
injuries don’t need to be large for the bacteria to take hold. Even a needle
puncture can be enough.
Risk Factors for Necrotizing Fasciitis
You can develop necrotizing fasciitis even if you’re perfectly
healthy, but this is rare. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), people who already have health issues that
weaken the immune system, such as cancer or diabetes, are at greater risk of
developing infections caused by group A Streptococcus.
Other people who are at greater risk for necrotizing fasciitis include
- have chronic heart or lung disease
- use steroids
- have skin lesions
- abuse alcohol or inject drugs
How Is Necrotizing Fasciitis Diagnosed?
In addition to looking at your skin, your doctor may perform
several tests to diagnose this condition. They may take a biopsy, which is a
small sample of the affected skin tissue for examination. In other cases, blood
tests, CT, or MRI scans may help your doctor make a diagnosis. Blood tests can
show if your muscles have been damaged.
How Is Necrotizing Fasciitis Treated?
Treatment begins with strong antibiotics. These are delivered
directly into your veins. The tissue decay means that the antibiotics might not
be able to reach all of the infected areas. As a result, it’s important for
doctors to remove any dead tissue immediately. In some cases, amputation of one
or more limbs may be necessary to help stop the spread of the infection.
What Is the Outlook for Necrotizing Fasciitis?
The outlook depends entirely on the severity of the condition. Early
diagnosis is crucial for this dangerous, life-threatening condition. The
earlier the infection is diagnosed, the earlier it can be treated. Without
prompt treatment, this infection can be fatal. Other conditions that you have
in addition to the infection can also have an impact on the outlook.
Those who recover from necrotizing fasciitis may experience
anything from minor scarring to limb amputation. Many times it requires
multiple surgical procedures to treat and then additional procedures such as
delayed wound closure or skin grafting. Each case is unique. Your doctor will
be able to give you more specific information about your individual case.
How Can I Prevent Necrotizing Fasciitis?
There’s no sure way to prevent a necrotizing fasciitis infection.
However, you can reduce your risk with basic hygiene practices. Wash your hands
frequently with soap and treat any wounds promptly, even minor ones.
If you already have a wound, take good care of it. Change your
bandages regularly or when they become wet or dirty. Don’t put yourself in
situations where your wound could become contaminated. The CDC lists hot
tubs, whirlpools, and swimming pools as examples of places you should avoid
when you have a wound.
Go to your doctor or the emergency room immediately if you think
there’s any chance you may have necrotizing fasciitis. Treating the infection
early is very important.