Flesh Eating Bacteria: How to Avoid and Treat Necrotizing Fasciitis

Flesh eating bacteria refers to a condition called necrotizing fasciitis. Though rare, this condition has become popular through media reports in recent times. In this serious condition, the bacterium that is involved destroys the skin, fat and tissue which cover the muscles in a short span of time. The organism spreads aggressively once it enters the body. Necrotizing fasciitis is caused by one or more than one type of bacteria. However, the term flesh eating bacteria is generally referred to a bacterium called streptococcus pyogenes.  This serious infection generally affects abdomen, arms and legs.

At least 500 to 600 people in United States are affected by flesh eating bacteria. The rate of fatality is more than 25 to 30%.  The condition is rare in children.

What Are the Causes of Necrotizing Fasciitis?

The term flesh eating bacteria is so used because the toxin produced by the bacteria rapidly destroys the body tissues. Most often the organism involved is streptococcus pyogenes. It is a member of group A streptococci. It is the same bacterium that is responsible for sore throat, scarlet fever, streptococcal skin infection etc. In rare instances, other bacteria are also involved.

The source of infection is skin, through minor or major trauma. It can also be bowels after abdominal surgery. In this case the infection is polymicrobial. It may be associated with anerobic organisms.

Symptoms of Flesh Eating Bacteria

The symptoms caused by flesh eating bacteria are produced within first 24 hours.

  • There is excess of pain at the site of minor injury.
  • The affected area becomes red and warm.
  • Blisters may appear sometimes.
  • The infection involves the deep fascia of the muscles of extremities and trunk.
  • Body ache, diarrhea, fever, weakness, and malaise are seen.
  • Patient may feel intense thirst.

After 1 or 2 days, patient may present with other symptoms at the painful sites. This may include:

  • Swelling of the affected site with darkening of the tissue.
  • Large violet or dark skin blisters filled with dark fluid.
  • Peeling of skin and tissue death is common.

Finally after 3 to 5 days of infection;

  • Low blood pressure.
  • Signs of toxemia.
  • Patient losses consciousness.

Prevention: How to Avoid Flesh Eating Bacteria

Experts still are not sure why the germ that usually causes mild sore throat or other infection can lead to severe life threatening infection as necrotizing fasciitis. Most people who are affected with flesh eating bacteria are in good health before the infection. Several steps can be taken to reduce the risk of infection.

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Always clean the wound with antiseptic solution as soon as possible even if it minor.
  • Always look for signs of infection which include pain, redness, heat and swelling. If they are present seek immediate medical attention.
  • If you have stayed in close contact with a person having necrotizing fasciitis, your doctor may suggest a course of antibiotic medicine, as a preventive measure.

Flesh eating bacteria causing necrotizing fasciitis spread rapidly. Diagnosing the disease is crucial for life survival. Above all, the symptoms are similar to those of flu and skin infection. Diagnosis is done on clinical examination and laboratory investigation of fluid and tissue samples.

Treatment Involves…

  • Administration of intravenous antibiotics.
  • Surgical removal of dead and necrosed tissue.
  • Raising the blood pressure.
  • Amputation of extremity if the area of dead tissue is large.
  • Oxygen to survive the healthy tissue.
  • Intensive monitoring of vital organs.
  • Transfusion of blood.