What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis?
Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare, but fatal bacterial infection characterized by destruction of the skin, underlying fat and tissues in a very short amount of time. About 1 in 4 people affected by this infection die from it. Necrotizing fasciitis is also known as flesh-eating bacteria. When this condition affects the genitals, then it is known as Fournier gangrene.
The infection spreads at a rapid pace and can quickly become life-threatening if not treated immediately. Patient can go into shock and have gangrene where there is damage to skin, fat and underlying tissue.
Patient experiences pain, swelling, redness of the skin. The skin feels warm to touch. Treatment is done by cutting the infected skin, tissues away, antibiotics, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and other medical procedures for complications, such as shock and breathing problems. Necrotizing fasciitis can also result in multiple organ failure and death.
Risk Factors For Necrotizing Fasciitis
- Having a weak or compromised immune system.
- Chronic medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, liver or kidney disease.
- Cuts and scrapes on the skin.
- Surgical wounds on the skin.
- Recent history of viral infections which cause a rash, e.g. chickenpox.
- Steroid medication use, which can result in decrease in body's resistance to infections.
Causes Of Necrotizing Fasciitis
- Necrotizing fasciitis is caused by different types of bacteria including those which cause other infections like impetigo and strep throat.
- Necrotizing fasciitis occurs when a bacteria enters a wound from a cut, insect bite or a burn.
- Bacteria can enter wounds or cuts upon contact with raw saltwater fish, raw oysters or ocean water.
- Individuals who suffer from injuries incurred from handling sea animals like crabs, lobsters etc.
- Surgery sites, gunshot wounds or tumors in the intestines can be a point of bacterial entry.
- Bruise or strain of the muscle.
- Necrotizing fasciitis causing bacteria can be transmitted from one person to another through contact from the infected wound of another person, such as, could happen in chicken pox.
Signs & Symptoms Of Necrotizing Fasciitis
Patient commonly starts experiencing symptoms after an injury and these include:
- The pain from necrotizing fasciitis improves over a period of 24 to 36 hours before suddenly worsening.
- The skin has redness, swelling and feels hot to touch.
- Patient has fever with chills.
- Patient also experiences nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Is Necrotizing Fasciitis Contagious?
Usually necrotizing fasciitis is not contagious; however, healthy people can contract this infection if they come into close physical contact with infected patients. Close physical contact to an infected person results in necrotizing fasciitis causing bacteria to enter into the uninfected person's body through any cut or scratch on the skin. For example, if a healthy individual comes in contact with a MRSA infected lesion, then that healthy individual will also become infected with MRSA. It is important to note that it takes direct contact with an infected person for transmission of organism which causes necrotizing fasciitis enter the body through a skin break, such as cut or an abrasion.
Investigations For Necrotizing Fasciitis
- Medical history and physical examination.
- A tissue sample is taken for testing for the type of bacteria.
- CT scan.
- MRI, all these are done to check and assess the injury to organs and to find out the extent of the infection.
Treatment Of Necrotizing Fasciitis
It is imperative that necrotizing fasciitis is treated as soon as possible. The sooner the treatment is started, the more are the chances of survival and recovery from the infection. Early treatment can also prevent serious complications like amputation of a gangrenous limb and death.
Treatment is commonly done in the intensive care unit (ICU) and comprises of:
- Surgery is needed in majority of the cases to excise the infected tissue and fluids in order to prevent the infection from spreading further.
- Many patients need multiple surgeries in order to control the infection.
- Depending on the severity and extent of the infection, limbs can be amputated or organs can be removed to save the patient's life.
- Medicines, such as antibiotics, are given to destroy the bacteria which have caused the necrotizing fasciitis and to prevent further spread of infection.
- Medical procedures for treating complications of necrotizing fasciitis, such as breathing problems, shock and organ failure are carried out.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is done to prevent tissue death and to encourage healing.
Prevention Of Necrotizing Fasciitis
- Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare bacterial infection and can spread from one to another only if there is direct contact and if there is cut or break in the skin through which the bacteria can enter the body.
- Antibiotics are given to a person who has been in close contact with a patient suffering from necrotizing fasciitis. This decreases the chances of getting the infection.
- If there are any symptoms of infection, such as pain, redness, swelling, fever, then contact your physician immediately.
- Wash your hands multiple times a day to prevent infections.
- It is important to keep the cuts, burns, scrapes, sores or bites in the body clean.