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Necrotising Fasciitis
Necrotising Fasciitis Flesh Eating Disease Information Sheet

Necrotising Fasciitis Flesh Eating Disease Information Sheet

This information sheet explains everything you need to know about necrotising fasciitis. If you would like any further information about necrotising fasciitis and medical negligence claims, please get in touch with our team of solicitors.

What is necrotising fasciitis?

Necrotising fasciitis is a bacterial infection of the body's tissues. It is also known as: necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh-eating disease, the tissue eating disease or simply 'NF'.

More specifically, it affects the subcutaneous (deep) tissues and fascia (connective tissue). In severe cases it can also spread to the bone and the muscle, although these have different medical names. When the bone is involved it is called osteomyelitis, and when the muscles is involved it is called necrotising myositis.

What bacteria cause necrotising fasciitis?

There different types of bacteria that can cause necrotising fasciitis. The most common is the Group A Streptococcal (GAS) bacteria. Others include E.Coli, Clostridium and Klebsiella.

How do you contract necrotising fasciitis?

You get necrotising fasciitis when the bacteria are presented with an opportunity to get inside the body.

Bacteria are all around us, but our skin acts as a natural barrier, preventing bacteria located outside the body from getting in.

However, if you come into contact with the NF-causing bacteria and you have a break in the skin, the bacteria will have the chance to infiltrate the body. This break in the skin can be so small you do not even know it is there. For instance, a paper cut or tiny nick. Other times the wound will be obvious, such as a surgical incision.

This means that anyone can get necrotising fasciitis, even those who are in good health. All it takes is for a person with a break in the skin to come into contact with the bacteria.

What are the early symptoms of necrotising fasciitis?

The symptoms of necrotising fasciitis will start soon after the bacteria reach the deep tissues. Within 24 hours, the following symptoms will arise:

  • Extreme pain at the site of infection that has no obvious cause, and/or seems disproportionate to the injury (if one can be seen)
  • Skin at the site of pain that is red, swollen and hot to touch
  • Fever and flu-like symptoms

These symptoms occur because the bacteria have begun to reproduce. This process releases a toxic chemical into the body, which harms the nearby tissue. This is very painful. The immune system tries to fight the infection, resulting in inflammation.

Necrotising fasciitis is a very aggressive infection, so it is unlikely the immune system will be able to overcome the bacteria. Consequently they continue to reproduce, all the while releasing a toxin into the body.

The tissue will become so damaged that the blood vessels will not function properly. The blood carries oxygen to the tissue and carries away waste products. Without fully functioning vessels, the tissue will be starved of oxygen and the waste products will build up. This serves to damage the tissue even further, and the lack of oxygen will soon result in gangrene.

What are the advanced symptoms of necrotising fasciitis?

Once the tissue has begun to breakdown and turn gangrenous, the following symptoms will arise:

  • Skin that changes colour to dark red, purple and black
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Continued pain, inflammation and fever>
  • Due to the fact the bacteria are multiplying, the symptoms will spread to an ever growing area of tissue. The patch of discoloured, painful and inflamed tissue will continue to expand until treatment is given. Necrotising fasciitis is very fast-moving, so it will not take long for a large amount of tissue to become involved.

    When gangrene occurs, the cells that make up the tissue will die. This is called tissue necrosis. At this point the tissue can become black and an open wound will develop. Sometimes this will go all the way down to the bone.

    Why is necrotising fasciitis called the flesh eating disease?

    It is for this reason that NF is known as the flesh eating disease. The bacteria are not eating the tissue. But the toxins released by the bacteria will ultimately cause the tissues to die, leaving a gaping wound. As the bacteria continue to multiply, the wound will grow in size, making it look as though the tissue is being slowly consumed.

    How do you diagnose necrotising fasciitis?

    A diagnosis of necrotising fasciitis is based upon a patient's symptoms. Medical practitioners must recognise that a patient's symptoms suggest some form of soft tissue infection. Surgical exploration will confirm that this is the case. Swabs can be sent to the laboratory during surgery to verify necrotising fasciitis.

    How do you treat necrotising fasciitis?

    Necrotising fasciitis is treated with:

    1. Broad-spectrum intravenous antibiotics. The antibiotics can be refined later, when tests reveal what type of bacteria is present
    2. Surgical debridement, which involves surgically cutting away all of the dead and infected tissue. More than one operation may be needed.

    The surgical debridement is particularly important. Without it, the bacteria will remain inside the body and will continue to multiply.

    Can you die from necrotising fasciitis?

    Yes you can die from necrotising fasciitis. If left untreated, the mortality rate is 100%. This is because the bacteria will spread to the bloodstream, triggering a condition called sepsis. The patient's blood pressure will drop to a dangerously low level, meaning the heart cannot pump blood around the body. The organs will be deprived of oxygen and begin to shut down. This will be critical, if not fatal.

    Can you survive necrotising fasciitis?

    Yes you can survive necrotising fasciitis, but only if treatment is given in time. As long as treatment is provided before a patient falls into a critical condition, there is a good chance that he/she will live.

    This means that timing is of the utmost importance in necrotising fasciitis patients. Doctors must diagnose and treat the condition as soon as the patient presents. Any delays could lead to the onset of severe or fatal complications.

    Can you get compensation for NF medical mistakes?

    If medical mistakes cause delays in the diagnosis and treatment of necrotising fasciitis, there could be a case of medical negligence. We have considerable experience in this area and have helped many patients and their families pursue a claim for necrotising fasciitis.

    Often claims arise from a failure to diagnose and treat the condition within a reasonable amount of time, resulting in complications that could otherwise have been avoided.

    If you would like to know more about claiming compensation for necrotising fasciitis, please get in touch with our team today.

    Need Advice About Necrotising Fasciitis?

    If you believe that you or a member of your family have been infected, please contact us for early legal advice. All initial enquiries are completely free of charge.

    Please call us free on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile 01275 334030) or complete our Online Enquiry Form.

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