What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Disease)?
Necrotizing fasciitis is a fast-moving infection of the fascia.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there are 700 to 1,200 cases of necrotizing fasciitis per year in the U.S. Most people who get the disease have other health problems.
Sometimes people call necrotizing fasciitis “flesh-eating disease” because the infection spreads very quickly. The bacteria don't actually "eat" flesh, but they do release toxins that damage tissue.
Necrotizing fasciitis can lead to organ failure, sepsis, and even death.
It occurs equally in men and women.
Necrotizing fasciitis causes
Group A strep bacteria is the most common cause of flesh-eating disease. But other types of bacteria can also cause it.
Bacteria can enter the body through:
- Insect bites.
- IV drug use.
- Puncture wounds.
- Surgical wounds.
Flesh-eating disease risk factors and complications
Anyone can get necrotizing fasciitis, but it's rare for an otherwise healthy person to get it. People who get the disease often have other health problems that weaken the body's immune system.
Flesh-eating disease isn't contagious, but people can become colonized with bacteria — often Group A strep — that can cause it.
Risk factors for necrotizing fasciitis include:
Complications from necrotizing fasciitis are serious. The disease spreads quickly through the body, so doctors need to treat it fast.
Untreated, flesh-eating disease can lead to:
- Loss of limbs.
- Organ failure.
- Severe scarring.
- Sepsis and septic shock.
How to prevent necrotizing fasciitis
Good hygiene and wound care are the best ways to prevent the disease.
Steps you can take
- If you have an open wound, stay out of hot tubs, swimming pools, and bodies of water like lakes and ponds.
- Cover open wounds with dry bandages until they heal.
- Clean minor cuts, blisters, and scrapes with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you don't have access to soap and water.
- Wash your hands often (especially after using the bathroom) with soap and water.
- See a doctor for any puncture wound, even if it's not bleeding.