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Necrotizing Fasciitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is necrotizing fasciitis?

Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly and destroys skin, fat, and muscle. It is also known as flesh-eating bacteria. Necrotizing fasciitis is a life-threatening infection that must be treated immediately.

What causes necrotizing fasciitis?

Necrotizing fasciitis is caused by bacteria commonly found on your skin or in your throat. The bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin, such as a bug bite, scrape, or burn. In most people, the bacteria do not cause a serious infection. People with weak immune systems or chronic medical conditions have an increased risk for necrotizing fasciitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis?

  • Redness, swelling, and severe pain
  • Sores or blisters that ooze
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, nausea, and muscle pain
  • Fatigue, lightheadedness, and fainting

How is necrotizing fasciitis diagnosed?

  • Blood tests are done to check for signs of infection and inflammation.
  • A tissue culture of your wound is done to find the type of bacteria that is causing your infection.
  • An x-ray, CT scan, or MRI may help show where the infection has spread. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is necrotizing fasciitis treated?

  • Medicines help treat your infection and reduce your pain.
  • Surgery may be needed to remove dead tissue and help prevent the spread of your infection. You may need surgery to relieve pressure, or a skin graft to reconstruct the infection site. Limb amputation may be needed to save your life.
  • Hyperbaric therapy may be used to decrease swelling and increase wound healing.
  • Wound vacuum therapy may be used to help stop bacteria from spreading and increase wound healing.

How can I prevent another infection?

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, and before you prepare or eat food. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use germ-killing gel if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Clean all wounds immediately. Use soap and water to clean even small breaks in your skin, such as minor cuts or blisters. Cover the wounds with a sterile bandage. Change the bandage as directed or if it becomes wet or dirty.
  • Limit your exposure to bacteria. Avoid people who are sick and have a sore throat. The bacteria that cause strep throat can also cause necrotizing fasciitis.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fever and a new wound with redness, swelling, or pain.
  • You have flu-like symptoms within 24 hours of an injury.
  • You have dark blisters near your wound that drain black fluid.
  • The area around your wound is numb.
  • The skin around your wound becomes discolored or flaky.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a sore throat.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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