What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis?

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Necrotizing fasciitis (pronounced neck-row-tie-zing fash-itis) is a very rare infection caused by strains of the Group A streptococcus bacteria. These bacteria, which have a chain-linked configuration, are similar to the bacteria that cause strep throat and scarlet fever. The bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis are often called "flesh-eating bacteria" in sensational newspaper and television reports.

When these bacteria enter the body through a small cut, bite, or scratch, the infected skin becomes discolored. The skin then blisters and cracks, exposing the destroyed tissue below. Within hours, an infected person can lose inches of flesh, or, in extreme cases, his or her life.

If the infection is diagnosed early, it can usually be cured by antibiotics. In advanced stages, however, it is sometimes necessary to amputate the affected limb to stop the disease from spreading through the body.

Source: Discover, vol. 16 (January 1995), p. 71.

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