Flesh-eating bacteria, or necrotizing fasciitis, is a rare but serious infection, of which a new variant has been discovered rampaging in the UK, France, Sweden, Canada, and Japan. Once one becomes infected, the disease rapidly progresses and can often lead to death.
What Is Flesh Eating Bacteria?
As the name suggests, necrotizing fasciitis is caused by bacteria. Once contracted, it begins to deteriorate and destroy healthy tissue, skin, and fat within the patient. As mentioned, the infection is rare but very serious, it is estimated that around one in four individuals who are infected with necrotizing fasciitis will suffer fatal consequences. The disease is also known as Fournier gangrene when it occurs on the genital area.
There are certain risk factors that can increase one's likelihood of developing the necrotizing fasciitis infection, these include:
- If you are known to have a weakened immune system.
- If you have chronic problems, such as cancer, diabetes, kidney, or liver disease.
- If you have cuts or surgical wounds on your skin.
- If you use medicines with steroids, as this can lower your body’s ability to resist infection.
- If you have recently had a viral infection which causes a rash (such as chickenpox).
What Causes Flesh Eating Bacteria?
There are numerous types of bacteria which can cause necrotizing fasciitis. Some bacteria are responsible for less serious conditions, such as strep throat, but in rare instances, flesh eating bacteria develops and has many derogative effects. You can catch this infection when bacteria get within a wound, such as an insect bit, cut, or burn. Other conditions in which one can catch this dangerous infection include:
- If a wound comes into contact with ocean water, raw oysters, or raw saltwater fish, or injuries from handling animals of the sea, such as crabs.
- If you have gunshot injuries, tumors, or surgical procedures to the intestines.
- If you strain or bruise your muscles, even if the skin doesn't break.
The bacteria of this dangerous disease are contagious and can be passed from person to person if one gets touched with the wound of an infected individual. That being said, this is a rare occurrence and only likely if the individual has a weakened immune system, open wound, or chickenpox. If you or someone you care for has been in close contact with someone who has necrotizing fasciitis, and you begin to notice some symptoms of this infectious disease (such as fever, swelling, and/or pain), then visit your doctor as soon as possible. Always ensure to wash your hands frequently and keep any cuts, scratches, scrapes, bites, and/or burns clean, disinfected, and dressed properly to help prevent any infection.
What Are the Symptoms of Flesh Eating Bacteria?
The symptoms appear quickly once an individual has become infected, usually taking no more than 24 hours after infection. The following symptoms are often associated with the infection at the very beginning:
- Increased pain in and around the area of a small lesion, abrasion, or similar skin opening.
- Pain that is greater than one would expect from a minor lesion or abrasion.
- Redness/warmth around one's wound, although symptoms may occur throughout an individual's body.
- Flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, fever, diarrhea, weakness, dizziness, etc.
- Dehydration, causing intense thirst.
Three to four days after becoming infected with this infection, more serious symptoms may begin to develop. These include:
- Swelling and the possibility of a purple rash.
- Large marks on the skin that are violet-colored, which eventually develop into blisters which hold dark liquid with a foul odor.
- Gangrene (tissue death), leading to skin flakiness, peeling, and discoloration.
Critical symptoms usually appear around four to five days after infection has occurred, and can include:
- Extreme decrease in blood pressure
- Toxic shock
The video below will show you the symptoms of this infection vividly.
How to Diagnose Flesh Eating Bacteria
There are numerous tests doctors can ask individual to do for diagnosing flesh eating bacteria. They will likely carry out a physical examination to check your skin for telltale signs, as well as carrying out tests including a biopsy, blood test, or CT scan. A biopsy involves taking a small piece of one’s skin tissue to examine. Blood tests help to show whether muscle damage has occurred, and CT scans help to show whether skin has thickened.
How to Treat Flesh Eating Bacteria
As with many conditions, early treatment is important to ensure the successof necrotizing fasciitis treatment. One is more likely to avoid the occurrence of serious consequences (such as loss of limbs, or death) if treatment is attained early. Current treatment methods to treat this infection include:
- Antibiotics – Most commonly, strong antibiotic medications are given to infected individuals into the vein via a needle. As necrotizing fasciitis causes an individual's tissue to become destroyed, as well as disrupt the blood flow, antibiotics are not always able to reach all of the affected areas within one's body. For this reason, alongside antibiotic treatment, immediate surgical procedures are often carried out (sometimes several times) to remove any dead tissue. In some instances, if it is deemed necessary to save an individual's life, limbs may be removed by an amputation, as well as some other organs.
- Medication to raise blood pressure is often administered to counteract the lowering of blood pressure caused by flesh eating bacteria.
- Some treatment methods aimed at helping complications such as breathing problems, shock, and organ failure.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and other treatment to preserve tissue.
- Intravenous immunoglobulin and other treatments to help the body fight infection.