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Necrotizing Fasciitis
(Flesh-Eating Disease)

What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Disease)?

Patient Comments

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. Though likely under-reported, the annual incidence of necrotizing fasciitis has been estimated to be about 500-1,000 cases per year, with a global prevalence of 0.40 cases per 100,000 population. Early identification and prompt treatment of necrotizing fasciitis is critical to manage the potentially devastating consequences of this medical emergency.

What Is the History of Necrotizing Fasciitis?

One of the first descriptions of necrotizing fasciitis came from Hippocrates in the fifth century BC, when he described complications of erysipelas. Though necrotizing fasciitis has existed for many centuries, several more detailed descriptions of this condition were subsequently reported in the 19th and early 20th century. 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).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/26/2016
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Necrotizing Fasciitis:

Necrotizing Fasciitis - Treatment

Please describe the treatment(s) you received for necrotizing fasciitis.

Necrotizing Fasciitis - Symptoms and Signs

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Necrotizing Fasciitis - Experience

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Cause of Necrotizing Fasciitis

Group A Strep

  • Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus, or group A strep (GAS) is a gram-positive coccus (spherical bacteria) that is ubiquitous, highly communicable, and spread primarily through person-to-person (skin-to-skin) contact and via respiratory droplets, as the human skin and mucous membranes are the only known reservoir for GAS.
  • GAS is associated with toxic shock syndrome and with life-threatening skin and soft-tissue infections, most notably necrotizing fasciitis, each of which is associated with an incredibly high morbidity and mortality.


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