Necrotizing soft tissue infection
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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 Streptococcus pyogenes, which is sometimes called "flesh-eating bacteria."
Necrotizing soft tissue infection develops when the bacteria enters the body, usually through a minor cut or scrape. The bacteria begins to grow and release harmful substances (toxins) that kill tissue and affect blood flow to the area. As the tissue dies, the bacteria enters the blood and rapidly spreads throughout the body.
- Small, red, painful lump or bump on the skin
- Changes to a very painful bruise-like area and grows rapidly, sometimes in less than an hour
- The center may become black and die
- The skin may break open and ooze fluid
Other symptoms can include:
- Feeling ill
Exams and Tests
Your doctor or nurse may diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. You may be diagnosed in an operating room by a surgeon.
Tests that may be done include:
- CT scan
- Blood tests
- Skin tissue biopsy
Immediate treatment is needed to prevent death. Treatment includes:
- Powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics given immediately through a vein (IV)
- Surgery to drain the sore and remove dead tissue
- Special medicines called donor immunoglobulins (antibodies) to help fight the infection in some cases
Other treatments may include:
- Skin grafts after the infection goes away to help your skin heal and look better
- Amputation if the disease spreads through an arm or leg
- 100% oxygen at high pressure (hyperbaric oxygen therapy) for certain types of bacterial infections
How well you do depends on:
Your overall health (especially if you have diabetes)
How fast you were diagnosed and how quickly you received treatment
The type of bacteria causing the infection
How quickly the infection spreads
How well treatment works
This disease commonly causes scarring and skin deformity.
Death can occur rapidly without proper treatment.
- Infection spreads throughout body, causing a blood infection (sepsis), which can be deadly
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss of your ability to use an arm or leg
When to Contact a Medical Professional
This disorder is severe and may be life-threatening, so contact your health care provider immediately if symptoms of infection occur around a skin injury, including:
Drainage of pus or blood
Always clean the skin thoroughly after a cut, scrape, or other skin injury.
Stevens DL, Bisno AL, Chambers HF, Everett ED, Dellinger P, Goldstein EJC, Gorbach SL, Hirschmann JV, Kaplan EL, Montoya JG, Wade JC. Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Skin and Soft-Tissue Infections. Clin Infect Dis. 2005;41(10):1373-1406.
- Last reviewed on 12/3/2013
- Daniel Levy, MD, PhD, Infectious Diseases, Lutherville Personal Physicians, Lutherville, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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This page was last updated: April 14, 2014