Necrotizing soft tissue infections

Also known as: Flesh-eating bacteria infection, Necrotizing fasciitis, Fournier gangrene
Necrotizing fasciitis is an infection caused by bacteria. It can destroy skin, fat, and the tissue covering the muscles.

The disease sometimes is called "flesh-eating" bacteria. When it occurs on the genitals, it is called Fournier gangrene.

Necrotizing fasciitis is very rare but serious. About 1 out of 4 people who get this infection die from it.1 Many people who get necrotizing fasciitis are in good health before they get the infection.

Your risk of getting this infection is higher if you:
  • Have a weak immune system.
  • Have chronic health problems such as diabetes, cancer, or liver or kidney disease.
  • Have cuts in your skin, including surgical wounds.
  • Recently had chickenpox or other viral infections that cause a rash.
  • Use steroid medicines, which can lower the body's resistance to infection.
What causes necrotizing fasciitis?

Necrotizing fasciitis is caused by several kinds of bacteria. Some of these bacteria also cause infections such as strep throat and impetigo. Usually the infections caused by these bacteria are mild. But in rare cases they can cause a more dangerous infection.

You can get necrotizing fasciitis in:
  • Wounds that come in contact with ocean water, raw saltwater fish, or raw oysters. You also can get it though injuries from handling sea animals such as crabs.
  • An intestinal surgery site, or in tumors or gunshot injuries in the intestines.
  • A muscle strain or bruise, even if there is no break in the skin.
  • Bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis can be passed from person to person through close contact, such as kissing, or by touching the wound of the infected person. But a person who gets infected by the bacteria is unlikely to get necrotizing fasciitis unless he or she has an open wound, chickenpox or an impaired immune system.

Based at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Hyperbaric Medicine is Oregon's only 24-hour hospital-based hyperbaric service.

During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, pressurized chambers with a 100 percent oxygen environment counter the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation, and decompression illness in scuba divers, as well as promote tissue healing in patients with impaired circulation due to diabetes, trauma and radiation therapy.