Necrotising fasciitis is an infection which can sometimes develop in hospital and sometimes simply result from a wound sustained in the garden. It can appear innocuous at the start but can rapidly become life-threatening.
Without a doubt a necrotising fasciitis infection is a medical emergency for a whole range of reasons.
The speed of infection
Once established in the patient’s deep, soft tissue, the necrotising fasciitis bacteria can spread through the body via the connective fascia at a rate of up to 2- 3cms per hour. This is an astonishing and life-threatening speed of development. As it spreads it will continue to infect the new tissue with which it comes into contact.
The impact of necrotising fasciitis bacteria
The pathogens which cause necrotising fasciitis, of which there are many, have a toxic impact on any tissue they infect. This means that all infected tissue will die and, obviously, cease to function. This can result in the destruction of considerable areas of the patient’s body substance and significant loss of function.
The spread of the infection can also impact on the functioning of the circulatory system and its ability to deliver oxygen to the body’s major organs.
The urgency of surgery
Experience has demonstrated that the sooner treatment is started, the better chance the patient has of survival, in the first instance, and of minimal physical impact where they do survive.
Although antibiotics are used in the management of necrotising fasciitis, the only way to comprehensively halt the spread of the infection is to undergo surgery for the removal of all affected tissue.
This almost always requires more than one surgical procedure before all infected tissue has been removed. The longer diagnosis and treatment are delayed, the more debridement procedures are likely to be needed and the more physical and psychological damage the patient is likely to experience from the surgical treatment alone.
The impact of surgical debridement
The procedures necessary to remove infected tissue inevitably involve further trauma to the patient’s body. An emergency approach to surgery can minimise the extent to which this is necessary.
Necrotising fasciitis tends to affect the abdominal area of the limbs and, where the extent of infection has progressed dramatically prior to surgery, the patient may even require an amputation in order to halt the infection.
A more prompt diagnosis and emergency treatment can help to minimise the chances of the patient having to undergo such a devastating outcome.
Diagnosis of necrotising fasciitis
To a large degree, the long-term outcome for a patient with this appalling illness hinges on the speed and accuracy with which their condition is diagnosed.
A prompt diagnosis can facilitate an emergency surgical response. A delayed diagnosis due to missing the symptoms can lead to a shocking and debilitating outcome.
Necrotising fasciitis is fairly uncommon and some of its early symptoms can be confused with conditions such as cellulitis or DVT. Nonetheless, a failure to consider it as a possible diagnosis in patients exhibiting symptoms of infection alongside intense pain and swelling in the region of a cut or wound might be considered to have been negligent.
Speak to a solicitor
We have supported numerous patients who have suffered the terrible impact of necrotising fasciitis in making a claim for compensation. Where diagnosis and treatment could not have happened more promptly, there is unlikely to be a claim. But if you or a loved one have experienced the destructive effect of this appalling illness due to a medical failing, call us to talk to a specialist medical negligence solicitor.