Painful and potentially fatal, flesh-eating disease is a bacterial infection that attacks the body's skin and soft tissues. Read more about this harmful disease below.
Flesh-Eating Disease Information
Group A Streptococcus bacteria, the same bacteria that cause strep throat, can be to blame for the bacterial infection known as the "flesh-eating" disease, or necrotizing fasciitis. However, a combination of other oxygen-using (aerobic) or oxygen-avoiding (anaerobic) bacteria can be the cause, as well.
The bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis can enter the body through respiratory droplets, such as those released during a sneeze or cough, or they can get in through a surgical incision or through an injury as minor as a paper cut. The bacteria multiply quickly and destroy skin and soft tissues, including the fascia, the fibrous tissue below the skin that surrounds muscle.
At its onset, necrotizing fasciitis causes flulike symptoms and severe pain in the affected area, but within a day or so, the work of the destructive bacteria becomes apparent: Swollen, dark tissue and blisters filled with black fluid develop on the infected body part. By this time, the pain disappears because the nerves are destroyed.
If the disease is allowed to progress, it can cause blood pressure to drop and can send the body into shock from the toxins released by scores of bacteria. The infected person requires immediate hospitalization to receive intravenous antibiotics and to have the infected tissue surgically removed.
According to the CDC, necrotizing fasciitis kills about 20 percent of the people it afflicts, but complications due to toxic shock can push the mortality rate to 50 percent. Survivors face massive amputation, disfigured tissue, and months of skin grafts to repair damaged areas.
Who's at Risk for Flesh-Eating Disease?
Anyone can be infected with the bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis. However, those with weakened immune systems, people who have diabetes, alcohol and drug abusers, the elderly, and those who undergo abdominal surgery are at increased risk.
Defensive Measures Against Flesh-Eating Disease
The best way to defend yourself against necrotizing fasciitis is to avoid the bacteria that cause it. That means washing your hands thoroughly and often, steering clear of people who have sore throat symptoms (in case they have strep throat), and taking care of injuries. If you receive a cut or abrasion, wash it thoroughly with hot water and soap and apply antibiotic ointment. And don't pop skin blisters -- the National Institutes of Health says keeping the skin intact is a powerful line of defense to ward off infection.
If flesh-eating bacteria are present, you'll want to get treatment early on. Watch injured areas for signs of infection, especially if you're in a high-risk group. Look for swelling around the wound, redness, and/or drainage, and note any pain. If you have any doubts, seek medical treatment. Early intervention can save life and limb.
See the next section for prevention tips against a relatively new viral infection -- SARS.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.