What is Necrotizing Fasciitis?
Necrotizing Fasciitis is more commonly called the "Flesh-eating Disease." The disease got its name because it destroys human tissue at a rate of almost 3 centimeters per hour. In some cases death occurs within 18 hours. When the bacteria invade the layers of tissue that surround muscle, called the fascia, it is called "necrotizing faciitis."
What Causes Necrotizing Fasciitis?
Group A Strep (GAS), the bacteria that causes Strep Throat, impetigo and Scarlet Fever also causes most cases of necrotizing fasciiitis. Scientists do not know why the bacteria occasionally acts in such a destructive way, but have found that the strains that cause necrotizing fasciitis produce enzymes that destroy tissue directly as well as cause the body's immune system to destroy its own tissue while fighting the bacteria.
Where Does the Bacteria Come From?
Group A Strep (GAS) is often found in the nose, throat and skin of healthy people. It is passed from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when people carrying the bacteria cough or sneeze. Other people become carriers of the bacteria when they have contact with objects contaminated by these droplets.
The bacteria enter the body through an opening in the skin. It can enter through a very minor opening such as a paper cut, staple puncture or a pinprick. In rare cases there appears to be no identifiable point of entry.
What Are the Symptoms of the Disease?
Early symptoms (usually within 24 hours) include redness and severe pain at the site of the skin injury (cut) or in the same region or limb of the body. These symptoms may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as fever, nausea, dizziness, weakness and fatigue.
An important clue to this disease is very severe pain that is out of proportion to what you would normally expect from that type of injury.
Advanced symptoms (usually within 3-4 days) include swelling of the body part that is experiencing pain, a purplish rash and large dark marks that become blisters filled with black necrotic fluid.
Death occurs in 20 percent of all cases.
How is it treated? Antibiotics are an important part of the treatment of necrotizing fasciitis but surgery is usually required. Necrotizing fasciitis cuts off the blood supply needed to carry the antibiotics to the infected site in order to work. Surgery is required to remove the necrotic tissue and prevent further spread of the infection.
What Are Your Chances of Getting Necrotizing Fasciitis?
Your chance of getting necrotizing fasciitis is very low. There were approximately 800 cases in the United States in 1998 compared to several million cases of Strep throat and impetigo. Although healthy people get necrotizing fasciitis, people with chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes or kidney disease and users of drugs such as steroids have a higher risk.