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Necrotizing Fasciitis

Necrotizing fasciitis, the so-called “flesh-eating disease,” is a rare but serious infection. While many types of bacteria can cause this, a very severe form is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, sometimes called “flesh-eating bacteria.”

The infection often begins like most others – through a cut or a scrape. However, unlike other infections, this one spreads very quickly as the bacteria do their damage. They grow and release a harmful substance that destroys surrounding tissue and can enter the blood stream.

Infection can also occur from surgery, childbirth, or any type of event that causes a trauma to the body. Necrotizing fasciitis is not contagious, nor is it communicable. The only way to get it is to become infected with the bacteria, just as you would get an infection in a cut at any other time.

The bacteria “eat away” at muscles, skin and underlying body tissues. Doctors must act fast to stop the spread of the infection before it spreads and before sepsis develops. Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

Necrotizing fasciitis symptoms

The symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis infection are much like any type of infection, but they appear more rapidly and are more intense:

  • Small, red, painful lump or bump on the skin
  • Changes to a very painful bruise-like area and grows rapidly, sometimes in less than an hour
  • The center may become black and die
  • The skin may break open and ooze fluid
  • Severe pain

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

Risk factors for necrotizing fasciitis

This type of infection, although rare, can happen to anyone at any time. Therefore, it would be important to look at anyone who may be a higher risk of developing any type of infection. These are people who:

  • Share personal items, such as towels, razors, etc.
  • Have depressed immune systems, such as living with HIV or cancer, or who are receiving treatment that can lower the immune system, such as chemotherapy or steroids.
  • Are very young or old
  • Are hospitalized or in close quarters, such as prisons and dormitories
  • Patients in hospitals or healthcare facilities can contract an infection through various ways, such as:

– Surgical wounds

– Puncture wound (intravenous, injection, biopsy needle)

– Urinary catheters

Good hygiene always and quick response to injuries may help reduce the risk of developing an infection.

By ensuring proper and frequent hand washing, you are reducing your risk of infection significantly.

By cleaning out wounds as soon as they are noticed, you again reduce the risk.

Prognosis

Once the infection has been stopped, there should be no further problems from the infection itself. However, there may be lasting effects from the treatments, particularly if they included surgery to remove large amount of tissue or amputations.

If the infection is not treated quickly enough or properly, the result is often death.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Updated November 3, 2021

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Necrotizing Fasciitis

Lorey Duprey

Survivor

On April 3, 2019, I woke up in the middle of the night shaking uncontrollably. I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t wake my husband. So I laid back down and woke again a few hours later and was sick. I spent most of the next day in pain on my left glute, sick. I started think I had the worst case of the flu I ever had. As the day turned into night, I asked my husband to check my glute, and he insisted I needed to go to the hospital. I was admitted shortly after arriving. I ... Read Full Story

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Debbie Barber

Survivor, Survivor

On September 12th I was diagnosed with sepsis and went into septic shock due to an infection from necrotizing fasciitis. (Sepsis and Necrotizing Fasciitis) I developed a bump on my bottom, had emergency surgery. I woke up in ICU on life support. I was then transferred from Bainbridge GA to Tallahassee FL to another hospital and had more surgery. I have to wear a colostomy bag. Spent a month and a half in the hospital. Have home health and physical therapy. I have to use a cane when I’m walking. Recovery in progress! Read Full Story

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Nicholas Blaisdell

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I had gotten home from work and felt fine, just a normal day. I went with my wife down to pick up some hay for her cows and I didn’t feel right. Once we got home I told her I was going to take a shower and try to take a nap, I was feeling worse every minute. I was able to fall asleep, but when I woke up a short time later I had terrible chills and I felt horrible. I went downstairs and got in the shower to try and stop shaking, but it didn’t help. I made ... Read Full Story

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Curtis Durham

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Tribute

We lost Curtis Von Durham due to sepsis on 12/21/2018. He became ill by a flesh eating infection called necrotizing fasciitis. (Sepsis and Necrotizing Fasciitis) He said he wasn’t feeling well one night before bed, similar to the flu. He developed chills. Felt warm but had no fever. Symptoms were mild and nothing that you would worry about. He didn’t come back from the restroom the next morning and I found him face down and passed out. I dialed 911 and by the time the ambulance arrived, he was awake and in non specific pain. His blood pressure was falling. ... Read Full Story

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Angie Edstrom

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Tribute, Survivor

March 24, 2017 started as any other day. I started my day with a swim, full day of work, and a store to pick up some necessities after work. It was around 3:00pm that I noticed a small sore spot on a knuckle of my right hand. The spot was peculiar, as I didn’t recall being bitten by any insects or injuring my hand in any way. The spot was small at first, about the size of a dime, but gradually grew in size, swelling and pain. By late evening, my hand was swollen and the swelling was progressing up ... Read Full Story

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Necrotizing Fasciitis

Necrotizing fasciitis, the so-called “flesh-eating disease,” is a rare but serious infection. While many types of bacteria can cause this, a very severe form is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, sometimes called “flesh-eating bacteria.”