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Necrotising Fasciitis
History of Necrotising Fasciitis

History of Necrotising Fasciitis

Necrotising fasciitis has been described throughout history, although it was not termed 'necrotising fasciitis' until 1952.

In this article we explore this history of necrotising fasciitis in more detail, exploring the different terms used throughout the ages.

Necrotising fasciitis throughout history

The condition that we now know as necrotising fasciitis has been described for thousands of years. Perhaps the first mention was by Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C. He linked it to erysipelas, a bacterial infection that causes red patches on the skin.

The next notable mention of necrotising fasciitis was in 1764 by Baurienne, who described a soft-tissue infection in the male genitalia.

Just over a century later in 1871, the same disease was recorded by a man called Joseph Jones, who was an army surgeon for the Confederate Army (in the American Civil War). He called it 'hospital gangrene', and 46% of his patients who suffered the condition died.

Just years later in 1883, Jean-Alfred Fournier delivered a lecture on perineal gangrene in a previously healthy young man. This was the fifth case that Fournier, a French venereologist, had studied. This followed on from Baurienne's observations in the 1700s.

The condition was then named after Fournier in light of his work. Even now, necrotising fasciitis that appears in the male genitalia is known as 'Fournier's Gangrene'.

The history of necrotising fasciitis was further progressed in 1924 by Frank Meleney. He identified gangrene in 20 patients and attributed it to a streptococcal infection. This was dubbed 'Meleney's Gangrene.'

Eventually in 1952, Wilson coined the term 'necrotising fasciitis' to denote the condition. 'Necrotising' is the medical way of describing tissue death, while 'fasciitis' refers to the fascia the tissue that connects muscles and is often affected by necrotising fasciitis.

Since then, necrotising fasciitis has been given many sensationalist names, including the flesh-eating disease, the flesh-eating bug and galloping gangrene. Such terms have developed due to the appearance of the disease.

Is the flesh being eaten?

However, this is not clinically accurate because the flesh is not being eaten. In fact, the tissue is dying due to a lack of blood and oxygen. This occurs because bacteria get into the deep tissues and reproduce, a process which lets off a poisonous chemical. This damages the tissues, disrupts the blood supply and ultimately causes tissue death.

Because the bacteria are multiplying, the area of tissue death will gradually increase. An open would will develop and this will grow in size. All this gives it the appearance that the tissue is being eaten.

Modern day medicine and necrotising fasciitis

Medicine has come a long way since necrotising fasciitis was first described by Hippocrates. The condition is understood in much greater detail, and medical practitioners know how to diagnose and treat it.

Nevertheless, necrotising fasciitis is still a potentially deadly condition due to the rapidity at which the bacteria spread. It can take just days before the bacteria reach the bloodstream, which can trigger a very serious condition called sepsis. Sepsis leads to organ dysfunction, which the patient may not survive.

Consequently mortality rates for necrotising fasciitis are still relatively high. It is possible to survive necrotising fasciitis, but only with immediate treatment. This treatment must involve debridement surgery, intravenous fluids and antibiotics, and organ support. Debridement surgery is the main treatment as it will remove the infected tissue. Absolutely all the infected tissue has to be cut away if treatment is to be successful.

Therefore the patient's survival depends upon the speed at which treatment is provided. Unfortunately this can be hindered by a delay in diagnosis. Necrotising fasciitis mimics more minor conditions in the early stages, such as flu. This means that to begin with a patient may be overlooked or discharged. This is dangerous, because if treatment is delayed by just a few hours it can increase the risk of death.

Is this negligent?

Public Health England estimates there are around 500 cases of necrotising fasciitis in England every year. This is a small number, but medical practitioners should still be able to recognise a severe soft tissue infection when the patient presents. This will lead to further investigations, which will then result in an accurate diagnosis of necrotising fasciitis.

A failure to diagnose and treat necrotising fasciitis in a reasonable amount of time can amount to medical negligence. As a law firm, we have acted for people who have suffered due to a delay in diagnosis, and for families whose loved one died because of medical mistakes.

Common examples of necrotising fasciitis negligence include:

  • Failing to recognise the signs and symptoms of necrotising fasciitis
  • Failing to perform medical tests that would assist a diagnosis of necrotising fasciitis
  • Failing to analyse test results accurately, causing a diagnosis of necrotising fasciitis to be missed
  • Failing to provide emergency surgery after necrotising fasciitis is diagnosed
  • Failing to remove all the necrotic tissue
  • Failing to support the organs and provide other treatment necessary
  • Failing to prevent necrotising fasciitis in patients at-risk of infection, such as diabetic patients undergoing surgery

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about claiming compensation for necrotising fasciitis, the 'flesh-eating disease', please get in touch with our team at Glynns Solicitors. As mentioned above, we have considered experience in necrotising fasciitis claims, and have successfully obtained compensation for victims across England and Wales.

Using our knowledge of the condition, we will be able to say whether or not you have (or your loved one has) been wrongfully harmed by medical errors. If so, we will help you pursue justice by making a medical negligence claim on your behalf. If the claim is successful, you will be awarded compensation to reflect the physical, emotional and financial trauma that you have incurred.

If you are interested in finding out more, we urge you to seek advice at the earliest opportunity, as medical negligence claims must be made within three years of the event. If you miss this three year period, you will not be able to pursue legal action.

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To make a necrotising fasciitis medical negligence compensation claim, please get in touch with us today.

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