When it comes to necrotizing fasciitis (aka flesh-eating bacteria), the disease is a case of something that is usually quite mild becoming a dangerous infection. In fact, one of the most common types of flesh-eating bacteria is group A Streptococcus (Strep A), the same bacteria responsible for strep throat. Furthermore, about 15 to 30 percent of us are walking around as carriers of Strep A right now [source: National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation].
A person contracts flesh-eating bacteria -- a very rare illness -- when that same Strep A, or other bacteria, enters his or her body, be it through an open wound, an intestinal surgery site or even a bruise or muscle strain. The bacteria can be passed via person-to-person contact, but is unlikely to develop into flesh-eating bacteria without that open wound. Once they enter your body, the bacteria quickly go to work killing the skin, tissue and fat in their way, leading to ultimate organ failure and possible death [source: WebMD].
In fact, flesh-eating bacteria work so quickly that early treatment is imperative to survival. Immediate treatment includes administration of high doses of antibiotics, such as penicillin and clindamycin, to fight the infection, removal of the damaged and dying flesh to impede the spread of the bacteria and treatment of any toxic shock symptoms as the body starts to shut down [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].
So if it is true that flesh-eating bacteria move so quickly that something can go from being a minor spot on your leg to involving that entire leg in fewer than thirty minutes, it must be easy to watch for signs of and diagnose the condition, right? Wrong. Keep in mind that there are only about 500 cases of flesh-eating bacteria a year, and the illness is quite unpredictable as to when it will develop and where [source: Owings]. As such, to date, the best way to diagnose this predator-like condition is through watching for the sudden onset of symptoms, examining tissue and running tests to look at the condition of a patient's organs [source: WebMD].
Besides a formal medical diagnosis, what symptoms can we look out for ourselves? And how fast do they spread? Keep reading to get the full details on the symptoms related to flesh-eating bacteria.