Necrotizing fasciitis commonly known as flesh-eating disease is caused by serious bacterial infection of subcutaneous tissue, the tissue that lies just below the skin, and the fascia, the tissue that covers the organs that lie inside the body. Essentially, the condition involves bacteria that stop blood circulation and cause tissue to die and skin to decay. The disease is very rare but each year, it affects approximately 200,000 people worldwide, which includes around 1,200 individuals in the United States according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.
Although more than one type of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis, health experts believe that group A Streptococcus bacteria are the most common cause, the report says. Group A strep can cause infections ranging from relatively minor illnesses such as strep throat to very serious diseases such as flesh-eating disease. However, Vibrio bacteria also cause an estimated 80,000 infections and 100 deaths each year in the United States, according to the CDC. Consuming raw or undercooked seafood or exposing a wound to seawater or brackish water is the cause of these infections, though not all would lead to necrotizing fasciitis.
The infection, which can be caused by several types of bacteria, is not easy to diagnose and it can develop suddenly and spread rapidly. If not treated promptly, it can result in multiple organ failure and death, which accounts for about 30 percent of cases. However, no one is safe from developing an infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria but most people who succumb have weakened resistance due to other health challenges such as diabetes, kidney disease and cancer. Meanwhile, the good news is that proper wound care helps to prevent all forms of bacterial skin infections.