Necrotising fasciitis is a severe bacterial infection. In this article we look at the types of bacteria that cause necrotising fasciitis, what the symptoms are and what happens if doctors fail to spot the condition.
What bacteria cause necrotising fasciitis?
Necrotising fasciitis is usually caused by the Group A Streptococcus bacteria. It can also be caused by other types of bacteria including Klebsiella, Clostridium, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Aeromonas hydrophila.
The condition develops when the bacteria get into the body via a break in the skin. This may be a cut or opening so small that the individual in question is not even aware of it. Once inside the body, the bacteria reproduce at an alarming rate.
As they reproduce, the release a toxin that breaks down the tissue and fascia (connective tissue). This disrupts the supply of blood and oxygen, eventually causing the tissue to become necrotic (die). It is for this reason that necrotising fasciitis has earned the nickname ‘the flesh-eating disease’.
Symptoms necrotising fasciitis
As the tissue begins to break down, the first symptoms of necrotising fasciitis will appear. These will include a severe pain that disproportionate to the injury, skin that is red and hot to touch and a fever. The person in question will generally feel very unwell and flu-like.
As the bacteria spread, the area of infected tissue will expand. The tissue will also become increasingly dark in colour, turning dark red to purple or black. Eventually the tissue will break down and die, leaving an open wound.
Recognising necrotising fasciitis
It is essential necrotising fasciitis is diagnosed and treated in the early stages. This is because once the tissue becomes necrotic, it must be surgically removed. This is the only way to rid the body of the bacteria. Therefore if a large area of tissue has become necrotic, a large area of tissue must be removed, leaving an unsightly defect. This may also lead to critical health complications such as sepsis and organ failure.
Medical professionals should be able to spot necrotising fasciitis before a large area of tissue becomes necrotic. Fever and high white blood cell count indicate an infection. Furthermore, the visual appearance of the skin and the presence of a severe but unexplained pain should signal necrotising fasciitis. Together these symptoms should lead doctors to a timely diagnosis.
Missed necrotising fasciitis
Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case. There are times when doctors fail to realise a patient has necrotising fasciitis, instead diagnosing a more minor condition. Often this will amount to medical negligence, as doctors should have been able to diagnose the condition; their failure to do so will have caused unnecessary pain and suffering for the patient concerned, for which they deserve to be compensated.