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Diseases » Necrotizing fasciitis » Wikipedia

Necrotizing fasciitis in Wikipedia

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Necrotizing fasciitis". (Source - Retrieved 2006-09-07 14:05:02 from


Necrotizing fasciitis or fasciitis necroticans, commonly known as "flesh-eating bacteria", is a rare infection of the deeper layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues (fascia). Many types of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis (eg. Group A streptococcus, Vibrio vulnificus, Clostridium perfringens, Bacteroides fragilis), of which Group A streptococcus is the most common cause.


The infection occasionally starts with pharyngitis (sore throat), but more often begins locally, at a site of trauma, which may be severe (such as the result of surgery), minor, or even non-apparent. The affected skin is classically, at first, very painful without any visible change. With progression of the disease, tissues become red, hot and swollen, often within hours. Skin color may progress to violet and blisters may form, with subsequent necrosis (death) of subcutaneous tissues. Patients with necrotizing fasciitis typically have a fever and appear very ill. More severe cases progress within hours, and the death rate is high, about 25%.


"Flesh-eating bacteria" is a misnomer, as the bacteria do not actually eat the tissue. They cause the destruction of skin and muscle by releasing toxins (virulence factors). Streptococcal pyogenic exotoxins and other virulence factors lead to the release of cytokines which cause the clinical symptoms.


The diagnosis is confirmed by either blood cultures or aspiration of pus from tissue. Early medical treatment is crucial. Treatment often includes intravenous penicillin, vancomycin and clindamycin. If necrotizing fasciitis is suspected, surgical exploration is always necessary, often resulting in aggressive debridement (removal of infected tissue). Amputation of the affected organ(s) may be necessary.


This disease is one of the fastest-spreading infections known as it spreads easily across the fascial plane within the subcutaneous tissue. For this reason, it is popularly called the "flesh-eating disease" and although rare, it became well-known to the public in the $1990s$. Even with top-notch care today, the prognosis can be bleak, with a mortality rate of around 20 percent and severe disfigurement common in survivors. Mortality is nearly 100 percent if not properly treated. Correct diagnosis and early treatment of this disease is therefore of extreme importance.

Other bacterial strains

In February 2004, a rarer but even more serious form of the disease has been observed in increasing frequency, with several cases found specifically in California. In these cases, the bacterium causing it was a strain of Staphylococcus aureus (i.e. Staphylococcus, not Streptococcus as stated above) which is resistant against methicillin, the antibiotic usually used for treatment. (See $Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus$ for details.)

Well-known victims

  • Lucien Bouchard, former Quebec premier, who became infected in 1994 while leader of the federal official opposition Bloc Québécois party. He lost a leg to the illness.
  • Eric Allin Cornell, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics, who lost his left arm and shoulder to the disease in 2004.
  • Melvin Franklin, bass singer for The Temptations. Though Franklin's condition was diagnosed early enough to prevent complete amputation of his arm, he died from other health complications soon afterward in 1995.
  • Barbara Miller-Roy, the mother of former NHL goalie Patrick Roy had her arm amputated due to the disease in January 2006.
  • Devin Adair a 21-year-old student athlete on the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane football team, died of the disease on April 28, 2006 after a week in the hospital[1].

See also


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