What is Flesh Eating Skin Disease?

Necrotizing fasciitis is a very rare and very dangerous disease that essentially consumes skin, fat, and tissue. Essentially, it’s a skin infection is caused by the same bacteria that causes either impetigo (staphylococcus aureus) or strep throat (streptococcus pyogenes).

Posted on | Susan Evans, MD | Comments ()

Necrotizing fasciitis is a very rare and very dangerous disease that essentially consumes skin, fat, and tissue. Essentially, it’s a skin infection is caused by the same bacteria that causes either impetigo (staphylococcus aureus) or strep throat (streptococcus pyogenes).

As I said, this is a very rare disease, but for those who contract it, it is very dangerous and requires immediate hospitalization. Approximately 30% of all people who contract this disease will die from it.  While most people who contract it have health that is, in some way, compromised, some who get necrotizing fasciitis can be in very good health prior to the infection.

Who Gets it?

There are contributing factors to this disease. Either your health is in some way compromised, or you have recently had a skin breach that may have been exposed to the bacteria. The following people are considered to be at increased risk of contracting this disease:

  • If you have a skin wound of some kind that has been exposed to ocean water or if you have handled raw sea creatures like crabs, oysters, or saltwater fish with a cut on your hand.
  • If you have intestinal injury such as surgery, a gunshot, or a tumor.
  • If you have a suppressed immune system either from disease or from taking medical steroids that lower your body’s resistance to infection.
  • If you have chronic health problems such as cancer, diabetes, liver or kidney disease.
  • If you have recently had a rash from a viral infection like chickenpox.
  • If you have had just a skin cut, or recent surgery.

Is it Contagious?

It is somewhat contagious, and bacteria from this disease can be spread by kissing, or touching an infected wound. But remember, you must be similarly compromised in order to become ill.  If you must be in close contact with someone with this disease, your doctor will likely put you on antibiotics.

What are the Symptoms?

If you have had a recent injury where pain improves for about a day to a day and a half, then it gets really, really painful you may wish to seek medical attention. Even a muscle or joint injury without skin injury can be subject to deep soft tissue infection especially if you develop severe pain with chills and fever.

Most of the time you’ll be looking for the following symptoms:

  • Skin that his hot, red, and swollen. It may have red streaks coming from the wound area, and there may be pus seeping from it.
  • Fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These are signs of a systemic (or whole body) infection.
  • Swollen nodes in the neck, groin, or armpits.

Remember, this disease spreads very rapidly, and is considered to be life threatening. If you suspect that you may have this disease, seek immediate medical attention at a hospital. You doctor will ask you about the suddenness of your symptoms, and how quickly it seems to be spreading. They’ll test your tissue for the bacteria.

How Can I Prevent This?

Just as you would with any other disease: wash your hands often, keep all skin openings clean and keep a very close eye on all cuts, scrapes, burns, sores, and bites.

Remember, this is a pretty rare condition, so there is no reason to panic. Having the information is to help you decide if you need to get help.

Blog written by Susan Evans, MD
Dr. Susan Evans is an internationally acclaimed, health and beauty expert one of Oprah's and Dr. Oz's healthy skin and beauty...