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Necrotising fasciitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects the tissue beneath the skin, and surrounding muscles and organs (fascia).
It's sometimes called the "flesh-eating disease", although the bacteria that cause it don't "eat" flesh – they release toxins that damage nearby tissue.
Necrotising fasciitis can start from a relatively minor injury, such as a small cut, but gets worse very quickly and can be life-threatening if it's not recognised and treated early on.
Early symptoms can include:
After a few hours to days, you may develop:
If left untreated, the infection can spread through the body quickly and cause symptoms such as dizziness](/condition/dizziness) , weakness and [confusion .
Necrotising fasciitis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department as soon as possible if you think you have it. Call for emergency services if you're too unwell to get yourself to A&E.
Blood tests and scans may be carried out to find out what's causing your symptoms, although a diagnosis of necrotising fasciitis can usually only be confirmed by having an operation to examine the affected tissue.
Necrotising fasciitis needs to be treated in hospital.
The main treatments are:
People with the condition will often need to be looked after in an intensive care unit and may need to stay in hospital for several weeks.
While in hospital, they may be isolated from other patients to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
Necrotising fasciitis can progress very quickly and lead to serious problems such as blood poisoning (sepsis) and organ failure.
Even with treatment, it's estimated that one or two in every five cases are fatal.
People who survive the infection are sometimes left with long-term disability due to amputation or the removal of a lot of infected tissue.
They may need further surgery to improve the appearance of the affected area and may need ongoing rehabilitation support to help them adapt to their disability.
Necrotising fasciitis can be caused by several different types of bacteria.
The bacteria that cause the infection live in the gut, in the throat, or on the skin of some people, where they don’t usually cause any serious problems.
However, in rare cases, they can cause necrotising fasciitis if they get into deep tissue – either through the bloodstream, or an injury or wound, such as:
Necrotising fasciitis typically occurs when bacteria already on the skin or in the body get into deep tissue. The infection can also be spread from person to person, but this is very rare.
Anyone can get necrotising fasciitis – including young and otherwise healthy people – but it tends to affect older people and those in poor general health.
There's no vaccine for necrotising fasciitis and it's not always possible to prevent it.
The following measures may help to reduce your risk:
If you're in close contact with someone who has necrotising fasciitis, you may be given a course of antibiotics to reduce your risk of infection.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.