Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria) - Topic Overview
What is necrotizing fasciitis?
fasciitis is an infection caused by bacteria. It can destroy skin, fat, and the
tissue covering the muscles within a very short time.
The disease sometimes is called
flesh-eating bacteria. When it occurs on the genitals, it is called Fournier
Necrotizing fasciitis is very rare but serious. About 1
out of 4 people who get this infection die from it.1
Many people who get necrotizing fasciitis are in good health before they get
Your risk of getting
this infection is higher if you:
- Have a weak
- Have chronic health
problems such as
diabetes, cancer, or liver or kidney
- Have cuts in your skin, including surgical wounds.
- Recently had
chickenpox or other viral infections that cause a
- Use steroid medicines, which can lower the body's resistance
What causes necrotizing fasciitis?
fasciitis is caused by several kinds of bacteria. Some of these bacteria also
cause infections such as
strep throat and
impetigo. Usually the infections caused by these
bacteria are mild. But in rare cases they can cause a more dangerous
You can get necrotizing fasciitis when bacteria enter a wound, such as from an insect bite, a burn, or a cut. You can also get it in:
- Wounds that come in contact with ocean water,
raw saltwater fish, or raw oysters, including injuries from
handling sea animals such as crabs.
- An intestinal surgery site, or in tumors
or gunshot injuries in the intestines.
- A muscle strain or bruise,
even if there is no break in the skin.
The bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis can be passed
from person to person through close contact, such as touching
the wound of the infected person. But this rarely happens unless the person who is exposed to the
bacteria has an open
wound, chickenpox, or an
impaired immune system.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms often start
suddenly after an injury. You may need medical care right away if you have pain that gets better over 24
to 36 hours and then suddenly gets worse. The pain may be much worse than you
would expect from the size of the wound or injury. You may also have:
- Skin that is
red, swollen, and hot to the touch.
- A fever and
- Nausea and vomiting.
The infection may spread rapidly. It quickly can become
life-threatening. You may go into
shock and have damage to skin, fat, and the tissue covering the muscles. (This damage is called gangrene.) Necrotizing fasciitis
can lead to organ failure and death.