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Necrotizing fasciitis, also known as "flesh-eating" bacteria, is a condition that spreads quickly and can wind up deadly, if medical care is not received.

Historically, necrotizing fasciitis was described by many people, dating back to the 1840s and 1860s. In 1952, the term 'necrotizing fasciitis' was first coined by Dr. B. Wilson. It is very probable that necrotizing fasciitis had been around for centuries before it was first noted in medicine in the 1800s.

Currently, there are many different terms used to denote necrotizing fasciitis and these include; Fournier's gangrene, necrotizing cellulitis, suppurative fasciitis, flesh-eating disease, flesh-eating bacterial infection and dermal gangrene.

There are many different types of bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis.

The disease is rare and results in serious soft tissue damage. Necrotizing fasciitis can destroy fat, skin and tissue that covers muscles. It may sound frightening to think about contracting necrotizing fasciitis, but if a person is healthy and has a strong immune system, the chances of getting it are very low.

Necrotizing Fasciitis: Different Types

Necrotizing fasciitis can be classified into three general groups and it is based on the particular type of bacteria that is causing the infection. Type I is usually caused by more than two different bacteria's, or it could be due to a single bacteria and a fungus. Type II is most often the results of Streptococcus and Type III or gas gangrene is caused by Clostridium bacteria.

The Causes of Necrotizing Fasciitis

Most often bacteria is the cause of necrotizing fasciitis, but there is a chance the infection could be caused by other organisms. Group A Streptococcus and Staphylococcus, either alone or in combination with other bacteria cause most of the cases of necrotizing fasciitis. However, Clostridium bacteria needs to be examined, particularly if gas is noted in the infected tissue.

Because of better techniques for isolating bacteria, it is more common now that bacteria such as Clostridium and Peptostreptococcus, are showing up in cultures. Frequently, a clinician will send off a tissue sample if a person is suspected of having necrotizing fasciitis and the results can yield a mix of other nonaerobic bacteria such as Klebsiella, E. coli and Pseudomonas.

Necrotizing Fasciitis: Signs and Symptoms

Almost all cases of necrotizing fasciitis begin with an existing infection. An initial infection can result for almost any reason such as surgery, punctures or cuts to the skin or an insect bite. Instead of healing properly, a wound will start to become red, swollen and painful.

Normally, the signs and symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis begin within a few hours after an injury and can often present like another illness or injury. Some people who contract the infection may complain about pain or feeling sore, much like what would be experienced with a pulled muscle. 

The skin in the area of the wound will be warm to the touch and appear red or purplish colored.

Other things which may be noticed in the wound area include blisters, ulcers or black spots on the skin. People often describe the pain of necrotizing fasciitis as severe and unbearable. Often, a physician will note a person will have fever, chills, fatigue and vomiting. Because these signs and symptoms could mimic other illnesses, it may result in a delayed diagnosis.

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