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Necrotizing Fasciitis
(Flesh-Eating Disease)

Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Disease) Overview

Necrotizing fasciitis (NF) is a rapidly progressive infection that primarily affects the subcutaneous connective tissue planes (fascia), where it may quickly spread to involve adjacent soft tissue, leading to widespread necrosis (tissue death). Several different types of flesh-eating bacteria may cause this life-threatening condition, which can affect both healthy individuals as well as those with underlying medical problems. Though rarely encountered, there has been an increase in the incidence of necrotizing fasciitis over the last few decades. It is estimated that there are between 500-1,000 cases of necrotizing fasciitis in the United States each year. Early identification and prompt treatment of necrotizing fasciitis is critical to manage the potentially devastating consequences of this medical emergency.

History of Necrotizing Fasciitis

Though necrotizing fasciitis has likely existed for many centuries, several detailed descriptions of this condition were reported in the 1800s. In 1952, Dr. B. Wilson first used the term necrotizing fasciitis to describe this condition, and this term has remained the most commonly used in modern medicine. Other terms that have been used to describe this same condition include flesh-eating bacteria syndrome, suppurative fasciitis, necrotizing cellulitis, necrotizing soft tissue infection, hospital gangrene, streptococcal gangrene, dermal gangrene, Meleney's ulcer, and Meleney's gangrene. When necrotizing fasciitis affects the genital area, it is often referred to as Fournier gangrene (also termed Fournier's gangrene).

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