Flesh-Eating Bacteria: What Do You Need to Know?

Necrotizing fasciitis, aka flesh-eating bacteria, in addition to spreading quickly and aggressively in a person, can cause tissue death in the infected areas of the body.  Rarely occurring in children, flesh-eating bacteria affects between 600 and 700 people annually in the United States, with roughly 25–30 percent of cases being fatal.

Necrotizing fasciitis enters the body following surgery and/or some form of bodily injury, such as minor cuts, insect bites, and/or abrasions.  There are still cases of necrotizing fasciitis where the origin of the infection remains a mystery.  Once the infection enters the body, it can destroy muscle, skin, and fat tissues, which are all vital for a healthy body to function.  Necrotizing fasciitis takes place when its bacteria infects the layer of connective tissue below the skin, which is known as the superficial fascia.

Flesh-eating bacteria is also often caused by Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria, which is the same virus that causes strep throat.  Other types of bacteria, such as Staphylococcus, are also linked to necrotizing fasciitis.

An individual who fears that they might be infected with necrotizing fasciitis only have to wait 24 hours before presenting symptoms, which is usually a combination of

  • Worsening pain in the area around a minor, cut, abrasion, and/or other such tearing of the skin
  • Pain that is worse than normal for a cut and/or abrasion to the body
  • Intense thirst, caused by dehydration
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea, fever, weakness, dizziness, as well as general malaise

After three or four days from the start of the infection, more serious symptoms will present themselves around the general site of the infection, which includes:

  • Swelling, with the possible accompaniment of a purple rash
  • Large, purple markings around the wound, which transform into blisters, composing of a black, foul-smelling liquid
  • Discoloration, peeling, and flakiness will begin as gangrene, or tissue death occurs

The most serious symptoms, which usually occur after four or five days from the initial infection, include a severe drop in blood pressure, toxic shock, and/or unconsciousness.

Because necrotizing fasciitis infects the body rather rapidly, early detection and diagnosis are crucial.  However, because necrotizing fasciitis mimics symptoms of the flu and/or a mild skin infection, early detection is something not often seen by medical experts.

Diagnosing necrotizing fasciitis is usually based on advanced symptoms, which are often the presence of gas bubbles under the skin.  Scientists analyze fluid and tissue samples, in order to identify the particular bacteria that is responsible for the infection.  However, treatment for the infection will begin as soon as possible, which is usually before the bacteria is identified.  Anybody who has come into close contact with the infected individual should also be tested for the infection, especially if they develop symptoms.

Individuals suffering from necrotizing fasciitis will undergo several different types of treatments, which include:

  • Intravenous antibiotic therapy
  • In order to stop the spread of infection, surgery is required to remove any dead tissue
  • Raising the individual’s blood pressure with medication
  • Sometimes, it is deemed necessary to remove the limbs of the infected tissue
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, in some cases, may be recommended, to preserve healthy tissue
  • Breathing aids, as well as cardiac monitoring
  • Blood transfusions
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin, which will support the body’s ability to fight the infection

The amount of treatment will depend on the severity of the infection.  

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