Monday, May 21, 2012

Symptoms of Flesh Eating Disease

Flesh eating disease is also referred as necrotizing fasciitis, which means decaying skin. Actually, the flesh is not eaten but the skin starts dying as a result of the infection. It is a rapid progressive type of bacterial infection that destroys the skin, fat and underlying soft tissue that covers the muscle in a short time span (within 12 to 24 hours). The bacteria make the small blood vessels in the affected area to clot off. As a result, the blood supply shuts down. In the absence of a blood supply, the tissues die and decay. This whole process is called Necrosis in medical term. Necrotizing fasciitis is often caused by a bacterium known as Group ‘A’ beta hemolytic streptococci (GAS), which targets the layers of tissue, medically termed as fascia in the muscles.
Symptoms of Flesh Eating Disease

GAS is a very common bacteria; many people carry it on their skin or even in the throat without getting sick. It causes strep throat and can also cause impetigo, rheumatic fever and scarlet fever. In some cases, it leads to serious problems like meningitis, pneumonia, streptococcal toxic-shock syndrome, blood poisoning (bacteremia) and flesh eating disease. The bacteria are normally spread through close personal contacts like kissing or sharing cutlery with an infected person. People with strep throat or skin infections are most likely to spread the bacteria. Necrotizing fasciitis is rare, but potentially life threatening. It may lead to death within 12 to 24 hours. Early detection of symptoms and immediate medical care are important. Let us take a look at the symptoms of this rare, but deadly disease.

Flu like Symptoms

Usually the early symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis or the flesh eating disease are quite similar to that of flu. A mild fever may occur, which rapidly increases to over 102 degrees in just a few hours. Nausea associated with vomiting, weakness and lethargy may also occur. Chills may even accompany the fever. It may lead to chronic diarrhea too.


Necrotizing fasciitis is generally associated with a wound or an injury. A cut, scratch, contusion, burn, insect bite or surgical cut may provide entry for the invading bacteria. Severe pain (much more severe than expected for the injury) is an early symptom of an evolving case of this disease. The pain often increases before the development of an open sore. Noticeably, once the infection has progressed to the point of causing tissue death, it usually retreats as the nerves in the affected area start dying. Moreover, localized pain is a significant pointer that medical attention is immediately needed.

Local Skin Warmth

Local skin warmth is another important symptom. The skin over the affected area feels hot to the touch and appears red initially. As the infection spreads, the warm area also enlarges. It must be noted that as the overlying skin dies, the color of skin changes from red to purple to dusky gray.


As told earlier, the bacteria may enter through an existing wound or even from an insect bite. The bacteria move to other parts of the body and cause swelling of the skin. The infected area swells out. The overlying skin becomes stiff and shiny. As the infection spreads, the swelling rapidly advances outward. The disease progresses so quickly that a noticeable expansion of the swelling may occur in as little as 30 minutes.


Depending on the type of bacteria that cause the infection, raised blisters may develop on the infected skin. A crackling or popping sensation or sound is produced, when the skin is pressed. This may be accompanied by blister formation. This symptom is also known as Crepitus.

Foul Odor

With the progress of the disease, the skin and soft tissues die. This produces a foul odor emanating from the injured body part.

Ulcer Formation

As the overlying skin of the infected area dies, an opening or ulcer develops in the skin. With the progress in the infection, the ulcer also grows. An opaque fluid comes out of the ulcer.

High Fever and Dizziness

Typically a high fever of up to 102 to 105 degrees F (38.9 to 40.6 degrees C) is accompanied by the flesh eating disease. Sweating and chills are frequent. Other common complaints include extreme fatigue, headache, nausea and generalized weakness. It may also cause low blood pressure, which leads to fainting or dizziness.

Altered Mental State

Necrotizing fasciitis affects not only the body, but mind as well. Often the toxic effects of the bacteria may cause confusion, bewilderment or mental dullness. If the bacteria spread to the bloodstream, shock generally develops and it can lead to coma.

Heart Palpitations

The infection and the high fever may lead to an increased heart rate. The rapid heart rate triggers a responsiveness of the bounding heartbeat. This symptom is also known as heart palpitations. It can be a harbinger of looming cardiovascular collapse.

Once the disease is diagnosed, treatment should be initiated without any delay. Patients must be hospitalized and an experienced surgeon should urgently remove all the dead tissue. Treatment to lift blood pressure, hyperbaric oxygen and intravenous immunoglobulin may be also needed. Most patients may survive due to early diagnosis and treatment with just minimal scarring. However, if there is major tissue loss, then skin grafting will be necessary and amputation of limbs may be required to prevent death. Leading to the disease, up to 25 percent of patients will die and complications like renal failure and blood poisoning (septicaemia) increase the chances of death.


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