Necrotising Fasciitis

Necrotising fasciitis (NF) is a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects the soft tissue and fascia (Fournier gangrene, is NF affecting the perineum). In many cases NF progresses rapidly and early recognition and treatment is vital to halt progress. The mainstay of treatment is IV antibiotics and aggressive surgical debridement. Any delay increased the amount of tissue loss as well as the mortality.

Clinical course

  • NF can progress very rapidly in some cases within 0-2 hours from infection, however others may progress over days.
  • The main stay of diagnosis is “pain disproportinate to skin signs”, crepitus is only present in 13.5% of patients at presentation so is a poor diagnosistic sign.
    • Stage 1 [Requires clinical suspicion]:
      • Intense and severe pain –  which may seem out of proportion to any external signs of infection on the skin
      • Lesion – a small but painful cut or scratch on the skin
      • Fever -and other flu-like symptoms
    • Stage 2 [Obvious]:
      • Swelling –  of the painful area, accompanied by a rash
      • Blistering – large dark blotches, that will turn into blisters and fill up with fluid
      • Systemic symptoms – diarrhoea and vomiting
    • Stage 3 [Septic Shock – mortality >40%]:
      • Hypotension – severe fall in blood pressure
      • Toxin released – from the bacteria
      • Reduced GCS

Physical findings on admission

  • Erythema – 100%
  • Tenderness  – 97.8%
  • Warm skin  – 96.6%
  • Tachycardia (>100bpm) – 74.2%
  • Fever (>38°C) – 52.8%
  • Bullae – 45%
  • Hypotension – 18%
  • Crepitus  – 13.5%
  • Necrosis of skin – 13.5%

Risk Factors

  • Age – esp. over 50yrs
  • PMH  – Diabetes, alcoholic liver disease, cancers, hypoalbuminaemia, renal failure, strangulated femoral hernia, peripheral vascular disease, diverticulitis
  • Nutrition – Obesity, malnutrition
  • Drugs – Steroids, NSAIDS, IVDU
  • Trauma/Surgery


  •  Polymicrobial (71%)– in studies upto 6 organisms have been found inc; streptococci, staphylococci, E.coli, Pseudomonas and Klebsiella
  •  Monomicrobial (29%)– often streptococcal infection


(The following may help but early senior surgical input should be sort as early diagnosis and management is a clinical decision)

  • Bloods: VBG, FBC, U&E, LFT, CRP, Clotting, G&S, Cultures(2 Pairs)
  • Wound Swab
  • Imaging: (Remember: Surgical emphysema is a late sign)
    • Xray
    • CT


  • Antibiotics IV – Involve microbiology early, as NF is often polymicrobial
  • Fluids IV
  • Analgesia IV
  • Surgical Debridement – Early senior surgical review, ideally consultant (early recognition is vital, but also these patients are often frail with many co-morbidities and decision making imay be complex). The surgical speciality involved will depend on the site.

Further reading

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