Necrotizing soft tissue infection is a rare but very severe type of bacterial infection. It can destroy the muscles, skin, and underlying tissue. The word "necrotizing" refers to something that causes body tissue to die.
Necrotizing fasciitis; Fasciitis - necrotizing; Flesh-eating bacteria; Soft tissue gangrene; Gangrene - soft tissue
Many different types of bacteria can cause this infection. A very severe and usually deadly form of necrotizing soft tissue infection is due to the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, which is sometimes called "flesh-eating bacteria" or strep.
Necrotizing soft tissue infection develops when the bacteria enters the body, usually through a minor cut or scrape. The bacteria begin to grow and release harmful substances (toxins) that kill tissue and affect blood flow to the area. With flesh-eating strep, the bacteria also make chemicals that block the body's ability to respond to the organism. As the tissue dies, the bacteria enters the blood and rapidly spreads throughout the body.
Symptoms may include:
Other symptoms may include:
The health care provider may be able to diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Or, the condition may be diagnosed in an operating room by a surgeon.
Tests that may be done include:
Treatment is needed right away to prevent death. You'll likely need to stay in the hospital. Treatment includes:
Other treatments may include:
How well you do depends on:
This disease commonly causes scarring and skin deformity.
Death can occur rapidly without proper treatment.
Complications that may result from this condition include:
This disorder is severe and may be life threatening. Contact your provider right away if symptoms of infection occur around a skin injury, including:
Always clean the skin thoroughly after a cut, scrape, or other skin injury.
Abbas M, Uçkay I, Ferry T, Hakko E, Pittet D. Severe soft-tissue infections. In: Bersten AD, Handy JM, eds. Oh's Intensive Care Manual. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 72.
Fitzpatrick JE, High WA, Kyle WL. Necrotic and ulcerative skin disorders. In: Fitzpatrick JE, High WA, Kyle WL, eds. Urgent Care Dermatology: Symptom-Based Diagnosis. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 14.
Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and subcutaneous tissue infections. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 93.
Reviewed By: Ramin Fathi, MD, FAAD, Director, Phoenix Surgical Dermatology Group, Phoenix, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.