Background: Necrotizing fasciitis is a severe soft-tissue infection characterized by a fulminant course and high mortality. Early recognition is difficult as the disease is often clinically indistinguishable from cellulitis and other soft-tissue infections early in its evolution. Our aim was to study the manifestations of the cutaneous signs of necrotizing fasciitis as the disease evolves.
Methods: This was a retrospective study on patients with necrotizing fasciitis at a single institution. Their charts were reviewed to document the daily cutaneous changes from the time of presentation (day 0) through to day 4 from presentation.
Results: Twenty-two patients were identified. At initial assessment (day 0), almost all patients presented with erythema, tenderness, warm skin, and swelling. Blistering occurred in 41% of patients at presentation whereas late signs such as skin crepitus, necrosis, and anesthesia were infrequently seen (0-5%). As time elapsed, more patients had blistering (77% had blisters at day 4) and eventually the late signs of necrotizing fasciitis characterized by skin crepitus, necrosis, and anesthesia (9-36%) were seen. A clinical staging system was developed based on our observations. Stage migration from early to late stage necrotizing fasciitis was evident with majority of patients in stage 1 at day 0 (59%), whereas by day 4, majority had developed into stage 3 (68%).
Conclusion: This study has demonstrated the continuum of cutaneous manifestations as necrotizing fasciitis evolves. This will help in the early recognition and intervention of this devastating condition.