Necrotising fasciitis, sometimes described as ‘flesh-eating disease’, can be hard to diagnose and swift to take effect. Its impact can be both debilitating and destructive.
What is necrotising fasciitis?
Necrotising fasciitis is an infection of the body’s deep, soft tissue. It usually develops when bacteria which is otherwise found outside the body gains access to the deep tissue via a cut or wound to the skin.
However, the infection can also spread from a pre-existing medical condition such as a perforated bowel or diverticulitis.
The bacteria will spread through the body’s inter-connective tissue, causing the tissue it infects to decay.
How big a problem is necrotising fasciitis?
In the UK it is thought that around 500 new cases of necrotising fasciitis are diagnosed each year. This makes it fairly rare in comparison to conditions such as cancer and heart disease but prevalent enough to be of concern.
Is necrotising fasciitis fatal?
Necrotising fasciitis has a distressingly high mortality rate. In the UK roughly 20 – 40% of those people who develop necrotising fasciitis will die from it.
Survivors are likely to have undergone several surgical procedures and suffered significant wounds to the body in the process of trying to combat the disease.
What causes necrotising fasciitis?
Necrotising fasciitis can be caused by a wide variety of pathogens and is frequently found to be caused by a combination of different bacteria. Such bacteria include streptococcal bacteria as well as e-coli, Enterobacter cloacae, enterococcus and clostridium bacteria.
The different strains of bacteria may have differing impact and influence the likely spread of the infection and its outcome.
What is the treatment for necrotising fasciitis?
Although patients with necrotising fasciitis should be put on intravenous antibiotics to help the body fight the infection, surgery is almost always necessary to halt the spread of the disease. The purpose of this surgical procedure (debridement) is to physically remove all infected tissue.
Due to the rapid spread of the disease, it is usually necessary for the patient to undergo a number of debridement procedures in order to completely remove all signs of infection.
Such treatment is inevitably invasive in nature and will cause damage to the patient’s tissue which will subsequently require cosmetic surgery to try to repair.
In extreme cases, one or more limbs may need to be amputated before the infection is removed.
Who is at risk of contracting necrotising fasciitis?
Anyone can develop necrotising fasciitis. However, certain categories of people seem to be more likely to succumb to the illness. These include the following:
- People with a weakened immune system
- The elderly
- People who have diabetes
- People with on-going liver or heart problems
Patients who have recently undergone surgical procedures in hospital are also at risk as they will have received some form of incision in the skin whether that is a surgical cut or an injection site.
Is there a cure for necrotising fasciitis?
There is no definitive cure for necrotising fasciitis. Surgery has been found to be the only way to stop the spread of the infection. The sooner such surgery can begin, the better the outcome is likely to be for the patient. Also, the more comprehensive and effective the initial debridement procedure is in removing infected tissue, the better the patient’s recovery is likely to be. They are also likely to spend a shorter time in intensive care and have a quicker recovery.
What are the long-term effects of necrotising fasciitis?
The long-term effects of necrotising fasciitis can be devastating both physically and emotionally. At best, the patient will left with scarring at the site of the infection as a result of both the damage caused by the infection itself and the surgical debridement necessary to treat it.
Some patients are left with significant disfigurement as a result of their illness, affecting their mobility and, in some circumstances, the functioning of their bowel.
As mentioned earlier, some patients require amputation and this can cause on-going problems in a myriad of ways, affecting the ability to live independently, travel and work.
Can I claim compensation for necrotising fasciitis?
You may be able to make a compensation claim for the long-term impact of necrotising fasciitis if it can be demonstrated that your outcome was worse due to failings by the medical professionals who attended you. It may be that diagnosis or treatment were delayed despite you exhibiting clear signs and/or symptoms which might have indicated that you were developing the illness.
You may also be able to make a claim if you contracted the illness due to a failing such as not administering prophylactic antibiotics prior to your surgery when this would clearly have been appropriate.
Speak to a solicitor
If you or a loved one have suffered significant, long-term disability due to medical failings around necrotising fasciitis, you may wish to consider making a claim for compensation.
Contact us today to talk to a specialist medical negligence solicitor who will be happy to advise you.