Necrotizing fasciitis (NF), or just plainly referred to as “flesh eating bacteria,” is a rare type of bacterial infection that causes skin tissue to die. It can spread to other parts of the body, can result in the loss of limbs and may even result in death. Read on for more information about flesh eating bacteria, possible causes and why it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately.
While it may sound like an urban legend passed through office emails, necrotizing fasciitis is a very rare, but very real, disease that can, quite literally, make it appear as if the infected person is having his flesh eaten by ravenous bacteria. However, “flesh eating bacteria,” is not an accurate description of the infection as the skin tissue is not actually eaten by the bacteria. In actuality, the toxins the bacteria release are responsible for the damage done to muscles and skin tissue. This is where the “necrotizing” portion of its name is derived from as the toxins cause the skin to die.
The infection can also lead to critical complications that can be life-threatening. Some of these complications include:
Necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by various bacteria that typically enter the body through a cut or wound. Group A streptococcus bacterium is a common cause of necrotizing fasciitis, although it is better associated with milder conditions like strep throat. As the infection grows and develops at a rapid pace, it spreads harmful toxins that affect the flesh while cutting off the flow of blood to areas of the body with the end result being the death of flesh and organ failure.
The progression and severity of the infection depends on the infecting organism and how a person’s body responds to it. While necrotizing fasciitis can affect any person at any age, individuals with a compromised immune system are more likely to experience severe reactions. These high-risk individuals include:
Symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis will begin to appear at the point of entry, meaning the location of the cut, wound or area of trauma where the bacteria entered the body. Signs and symptoms that are visible directly on the skin include:
Other symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis include:
During medical consultation, a physician may first evaluate the affected area and examine the appearance of the skin. A physician may also perform a series of tests to determine if the patient is suffering from necrotizing fasciitis. These tests include:
If you suspect you are suffering from necrotizing fasciitis, it is imperative that you seek medical attention as soon as possible. Immediate treatment is necessary to prevent further complications like organ failure, amputation and death. Methods of treatment include:
Once the infection has been stopped and treated, skin grafts may be utilized to help skin tissues heal or to improve the physical appearance of affected areas.
The severity of the infection and extent of recovery depend on multiple factors:
In many cases, skin deformity, permanent scarring and the loss of limbs have been the end result of necrotizing fasciitis. Infected individuals run the risk of dying from the infection if treatment is not administered promptly and properly. To help prevent necrotizing fasciitis, individuals should properly clean and care for all cuts, wounds and other forms of trauma to the skin.