Risk at a Glance

Necrotising Fasciitis (Flesh Eating Disease)


There have been media reports of people who were infected by ‘flesh eating’ bacteria after handling raw seafood. This article provides more information on the ‘flesh eating’ disease and what you can do to protect yourself from it.

What causes the ‘flesh eating’ disease?

‘Flesh eating’ bacteria is a generic term given to a group of bacteria that can cause a complicated bacterial infection in soft tissues such as the skin and muscles, commonly known as ‘flesh eating’ disease, or medically known as necrotising fasciitis. Many types of bacteria found in the environment including Streptococcus pyogenes and Vibrio vulnificus can cause necrotising fasciitis.

How do people become infected with ‘flesh eating’ bacteria?

Necrotising fasciitis or fleshing-eating disease is a serious bacterial infection that can be caused by many types of bacteria. Similar to the common strep throat infection, the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes can become aggressive in certain groups of people such as the immunocompromised after entry into the body through breaks in the skin such as cuts and scrapes, burns, insect bites, puncture wounds and surgical wounds.

Another type of bacteria that can cause necrotising fasciitis is Vibrio vulnificus. It is a naturally occurring bacteria in seawater and brackish water. Like StreptococcusVibrio vulnificus can also enter the body when a wound is exposed to raw or undercooked seafood or seawater.

While necrotising fasciitis is a potentially fatal infection, it is rarely reported in Singapore. Patients with necrotising fasciitis are usually immunocompromised individuals or have underlying medical conditions that may weaken their body’s ability to fight infections. Necrotising fasciitis rarely spreads from person to person.

What can you do to protect yourself from necrotising fasciitis?

The most common mode of transmission is the bacteria entering the body through a break in the skin. Infection prevention efforts should include washing cuts with soap and running water, keeping the wound clean and seeking medical attention promptly if there are signs of infection. These include redness, warmth, pain, swelling, oozing pus, changes in skin colour around the wound and fever.

Nonetheless, as a good practice, consumers should observe the following personal and food hygiene habits:

  • Cook food thoroughly before eating. Avoid the consumption of raw seafood, especially shellfish such as oysters, where possible.
  • Avoid contaminating cooked seafood with raw seafood and its juices. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling raw, undercooked and cooked seafood.
  • Cover wounds/ cuts with waterproof bandage when handling raw or undercooked seafood. Exercise care and wear gloves if necessary (e.g. when handling may expose or cause breaks in skin).