Necrotizing Fasciitis: A Rare Disease, Especially for the
Necrotizing fasciitis is a serious bacterial infection that
spreads rapidly and destroys the body’s soft tissue. Commonly
called a “flesh-eating infection” by the media, this rare disease
can be caused by more than one type of bacteria. These include
group A Streptococcus (group A strep),
Klebsiella, Clostridium, E. coli,
Staphylococcus aureus, and Aeromonas hydrophila,
among others. Group A strep is considered the most common cause of
Usually, infections from group A strep bacteria are generally
mild or moderate and are easily treated. But sometimes toxins made
by these bacteria destroy the tissue they infect, causing it to
die. (“Necrotizing” means “causing the death of tissues.”) Accurate
diagnosis and prompt treatment with antibiotics through a vein and
surgery are important.
Common sense and good wound care are the best ways to prevent a
bacterial skin infection.
- Keep draining or open wounds covered with clean,
dry bandages until healed.
- Don’t delay first aid of even minor, non-infected wounds like
blisters, scrapes or any break in the skin.
- If you have an open wound or active infection, avoid common-use
sites like whirlpools, hot tubs and swimming pools until infections
- Wash hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based
hand rub if washing is not possible.
Necrotizing Fasciitis Causes
Most cases occur randomly and are not linked to similar
infections in others. The most common way of getting necrotizing
fasciitis is when the bacteria enter the body through a break in
the skin, like a cut, scrape, burn, insect bite, or puncture wound.
Most people who get necrotizing fasciitis have other health
problems that may lower their body’s ability to fight infection.
Some of these conditions include diabetes, kidney disease, cancer,
or other chronic health conditions that weaken the body’s immune
If you’re healthy, have a strong immune system, and practice
good hygiene and proper wound care, your chances of getting
necrotizing fasciitis are extremely low.
In cases of necrotizing fasciitis, bacteria spread rapidly once
they enter the body. They infect flat layers of a membrane known as
the fascia, connective bands of tissue that surround
muscles, nerves, fat, and blood vessels. The infection also damages
the tissues next to the fascia.
Necrotizing Fasciitis Symptoms Can Often Be Confusing
The symptoms often start within hours after an injury and may
seem like another illness or injury. Some people infected with
necrotizing fasciitis may complain of pain or soreness, similar to
that of a “pulled muscle.” The skin may be warm with red or
purplish areas of swelling that spread rapidly. There may be
ulcers, blisters or black spots on the skin. Patients often
describe their pain as severe and way out of proportion to how the
painful area looks when examined by a doctor. Fever, chills,
fatigue (tiredness) or vomiting may follow the initial wound or
soreness. These confusing symptoms may delay a person from seeking
medical attention quickly. If you think you may have these
symptoms after a wound, see a doctor right away.
Prompt Treatment Needed for Necrotizing Fasciitis
first line of defense against this disease is strong antibiotics
given through a needle into a vein. But because the bacterial
toxins can destroy soft tissue and reduce blood flow, antibiotics
may not reach all of the infected and decaying areas. This is why
the rapid surgical removal of dead tissue – in addition to
antibiotics – may be critical to stopping the infection.
CDC Tracks Necrotizing Fasciitis due to the Most Common
CDC tracks specific infections in the US, including necrotizing
fasciitis caused by group A strep, with a special system called Active Bacterial
Core surveillance (ABCs).
ABCs is an important part of CDC’s Emerging Infections Programs
network (EIP), a collaboration among CDC, state health departments,
and universities. By sharing this kind of information in a timely
way, public health professionals can stay connected and look for
trends in rising cases. Each year in the US, there are about
650-800 cases of necrotizing fasciitis caused by group A strep;
this is likely an underestimation as some cases are probably not
reported. According to ABCs data, the number of annual infections
does not appear to be rising.
CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting
people from health threats to have a more secure nation. A US
federal agency, CDC helps make the healthy choice the easy choice
by putting science and prevention into action. CDC works to help
people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.