Necrotising fasciitis is an aggressive bacterial infection that spreads very quickly. In this article we explore the different stages of necrotising fasciitis in more detail, explaining how the condition progresses.
Stages of necrotising fasciitis
1. Bacteria enter the body and multiply
Necrotising fasciitis will begin when the bacteria enter the body. They can enter through a gap as small as a paper cut. Once inside, the bacteria will begin to reproduce extremely quickly. As they multiply, they release toxins that destroy the tissue and block the body’s immune system.
2. The tissue breaks down and becomes necrotic
Once the tissue has begun to break down, the blood supply will be disrupted and the tissue will be deficient in oxygen. The tissue and fascia (connective tissue) will then begin to break down and die (become necrotic), causing an intense pain at the site of infection. Tissue necrosis can occur within hours of the bacteria entering the body.
3. Flu-like symptoms and discolouration of the skin occur
As the infection settles in, the chronic pain will continue as more and more tissue becomes necrotic. The skin at the site of infection will become red and hot to touch. Flu-like symptoms will also appear, indicating that the body’s immune system is attempting to eliminate the infection. This will happen as soon as the tissue has begun to break down.
4. An open wound develops
The tissue will continue to break down, becoming increasingly dark in colour. Eventually an open wound will develop. This wound will grow in size as the bacteria multiply and spread. The bacteria reproduce at a rapid rate, so the area of infected tissue will expand incredibly quickly. It is different in every case, but it is possible that a patient will have a large open wound within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
5. The infection spreads to the bloodstream
If the infection is not treated at this stage, the bacteria will have spread so far that they have reached the lymph nodes and/or bloodstream. This will result in sepsis, a life-threatening condition that causes inflammation and clotting across the body. The heart will not be able to work properly and a patient’s blood pressure will become dangerously low. This is called septic shock.
6. Organ failure
Sepsis and septic shock will compromise function in the body’s organs. Within hours this will lead to organ failure and possibly death.
Treating necrotising fasciitis
Necrotising fasciitis therefore spreads extremely quickly. It is not possible to put an exact time frame on each phase as every patient is different. However, it is safe to say that if left untreated, a patient’s condition will become critical within a matter of days (if not before).
It is therefore vital that medical professionals diagnose and treat the infection in the early stages. A failure to do so could amount to medical negligence.