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Flesh-Eating Bacteria (Necrotizing Fasciitis)

Medically reviewed by Danielle Vitan, MD · General Practitioner


Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Oct 17, 2022

Flesh-Eating Bacteria (Necrotizing Fasciitis)

Necrotizing fasciitis is known as flesh-eating bacteria. It may sound like something out of a horror film. But it’s a serious medical condition that can lead to adverse effects if not identified and treated promptly. It causes significant damage and destruction of deep soft tissue structures like muscle, connective tissues, and fat. It is a rare but severe and rapidly progressing bacterial infection that can be brought on by a variety of bacteria. One of the most common bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis is Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus.

Symptoms of flesh eating bacteria

If you start experiencing symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis, it’s important to seek emergency medical care as soon as you can. This condition typically presents with:

  • Tissue redness
  • Swelling
  • Severe pain, or pain that is out of proportion to physical exam findings
  • Bruising
  • Crepitus (an abnormal popping or crackling sound underneath the skin)
  • Fever

Affected areas

The extremities (arms, hands, feet, and legs) are the most common body sites where necrotizing fasciitis tends to occur. However, depending on the conditions and risk factors, necrotizing fasciitis can also develop in the head, neck, and groin areas.

Specific risk factors, such as breaks in the skin or mucous membranes, penetrating wounds from trauma, recent surgical procedures, immunosuppressive conditions, and others can contribute to the development of necrotizing fasciitis.

How fast does necrotizing fasciitis develop?

Early symptoms of a flesh-eating bacterium infection typically manifest within the first 24 hours of infection. Specific risk factors, such as breaks in the skin or mucous membranes, penetrating wounds from trauma, recent surgical procedures, immunosuppressive conditions, and others can contribute to the development of necrotizing fasciitis. It is therefore advised to consult a doctor right away if you develop the following symptoms after physical injury or surgery:

  • Dark patches, blisters, or ulcers on the skin
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Pus or leaking from the affected area
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue (general tiredness)
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

How is necrotizing fasciitis managed?

One of the first and most crucial factors in treating necrotizing fasciitis is early identification and diagnosis, along with immediate medical care. The standard treatment plan for necrotizing fasciitis includes aggressive surgical wound care, removal of the infected tissue, and administration of the right antibiotics against the causative bacteria identified. This is done on top of general patient care during hospitalization to ensure proper blood, lung, and heart functioning while undergoing treatment and recovery.

Is there a cure for necrotizing fasciitis?

As mentioned above, a number of clinical factors can affect a patient’s recovery from necrotizing fasciitis. However, patients with this life-threatening infection can survive and be cured, most especially when the diagnosis is made early in the course of the infection. Good patient outcome from necrotizing fasciitis highly depends on prompt treatment.

Can bacteria that consume human flesh transmit from person to person?

Contrary to popular assumption and what we see in movies, flesh-eating bacteria seldom transmit from person to person and are not extremely contagious. Nonetheless, these bacteria grow fast and exponentially, which can make it more difficult to identify and eventually treat. Good hygiene and proper wound care is essential to preventing the development of necrotizing fasciitis.

Do bacteria that consume flesh hurt?

Early signs of necrotizing fasciitis can include a red, heated, or swollen region of skin that is rapidly spreading, which can be accompanied by a fever. Intense discomfort, which includes pain that extends beyond the affected skin areas, can also be expected.

Key Takeaways

Since flesh-eating disease progresses so rapidly, treatment of necrotizing fasciitis usually involves surgery to remove the infected tissue and the right antibiotics to fight the infection. As there is no vaccine to prevent flesh-eating disease, good hygiene and proper wound care are essential to preventing this disease. Consult your doctor immediately once you notice signs and symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis as early identification, diagnosis, and treatment leads to better patient outcome and recovery.

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here

Disclaimer

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.



Medically reviewed by

Danielle Vitan, MD

General Practitioner


Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Oct 17, 2022

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