Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh Eating Bacteria)

Necrotizing Fasciitis is a bacterial infection caused by the Strep A bacterium. This bacterium is usually easily killed by antibiotics, however in some cases a very strong strain of Strep A (and sometimes other bacteria) will cause destruction of the soft tissue at the site of a cut or scrape. 20% of patients diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis die due to the strength of the bacteria and its ability to spread quickly through the body.


The bacterium enters the skin through a wound, either large or small (accidental or from surgical procedures, etc), or can enter through weak skin such as a bruise. The bacteria itself is airborne and is transfered from person to person by respiratory droplets.

Contrary to a recent widespread internet mail, necrotizing fasciitis cannot be cause by bananas from Costa Rica or anywhere else.


Early Symptoms (usually within 24 hours):
  • skin trauma of some sort with pain that is disproportionate to the injury
  • intense Flu-like symptoms
  • intense thirst

Late Symptoms (3 - 4 days):
  • purple-ish rash and swelling of the injured area
  • large dark marks on the skin that turn into blisters filled with dark blackish fluid
  • The wound may begin to appear necrotic (dead) with buish, white or dark mottled appearance

Critical Symptoms:
Diagnosis and Treatment

Unfortunately, during the early stages, necrotizing fasciitis is usually misdiagnosed (a full 75% of the time) because of the rarity of the disease (only about 500 - 1500 cases per year are reported) and the flu-like symptoms.

Usually the final diagnosis is given by a specialist in infectious diseases after treatment of the symptoms has failed and the condition has worsened.

Treatment usually includes IV antibiotics and aggressive removal of dead tissue. Other treatments may be added depending upon the level of toxiticy and organ failure, including medications to raise blood pressure, blood transfusions, anti-globulins, and in some cases patients are treated in hyperbaric chambers.


Prognosis is good if there is prompt diagnosis and treatment. For those that survive, there is almost certainly going to be some amount of skin removal and skin grafting. In many cases full limb amputations are performed due to the rapidity of necrotization.

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