Flesh eating bacteria is also referred to as Necrotizing fasciitis (NF). This is a rare type of infection associated with deeper layer of skin as well as subcutaneous tissue. It can easily metastasize across facial plain within subcutaneous tissue. The condition was first described by Wilson, in 1952 as ‘necrosis of fascia and subcutaneous tissue with sparing underlying muscle’.
This medical issue progresses quite faster and has great risk of aggravating to ‘immuno- compromised’ due to issues such as cancer or diabetes. This is a serious disease which can start suddenly and must be treated immediately through high dosage of antibiotics given intravenously to the patient and surgical operation. If the treatment is delayed it may also lead to death.
There are many kinds of bacteria that can lead to necrotizing fasciitis such as Streptococccus pyogenes, staphylococcus aureus, bacteroides fragilis, aermonas hydrophila, etc. Most cases of flesh eating bacteria disease is polymicrobial with approx 15% cases belonging to Type II class of diseases. People with weak immune system are more likely to suffer from such infections.
Flesh eating bacteria is a rare condition but it is extremely serious. Around 1 in 4 affected individual die from it. Since, its onset is spontaneous most people affected with it are generally in good health before infection.
There are certain factors that can increase vulnerability to the condition. For example people with affected immune system are at increased risk of suffering from necrotizing fasciitis. Individuals who suffer from cancer, diabetes, liver issue or renal problems are also susceptible to this issue. Some other risk factors for NF include:
- Cuts on skin, including surgical openings that can place you at risk of infection
- Recent affliction of chicken pox
- Infections that result in rashes
- Use of steroids that can reduce infection-resistance of the body
Causes of flesh eating bacteria disease
There are several types of bacterial that may lead to necrotizing fasciitis. Group-A streptococcus infection is one of the common causes of the condition. Some of such bacteria also cause impetigo, sore throat, etc. These bacterial are generally found on skin, nasal passage and throat. Usually, these bacteria cause mild infections; however, serious infections are rarely recorded. One can become affected with the infection if the bacteria invade the body through open wounds, rashes or other open skins. It may also take place through bite from insects.
- One may also get infected when cuts come in contact with salt water fish, raw oysters, etc.
- Intestinal surgery sites or intestinal injuries caused due to gunshots
- Contuses or strain to muscles, etc.
The bacteria that cause NF may transmit from one person to another through close contact; for example, touching open wound of the infected individual. This is a rare incidence unless the uninfected individual has open skin, affected immune system or chickenpox rashes. Some bacteria that cause such infection make toxins that can directly destroy tissues of the body and may cause the immune system to damage healthy tissues while trying to fight bacteria.
Symptoms of flesh eating bacteria
The symptom of the disease onsets spontaneously after the affected person suffers from injury. This call for immediately medical attention, especially if the pain alleviates from 24 to 36 hours and again becomes worsen. Usually, experienced pain is too intense as compared to the injury or wound. There are some other symptoms that include:
- Swollen and reddish skin
- Skin becomes hot to touch
- Vomiting and queasiness
- Fever and chills
The infection can spread faster and turn life-threatening rapidly. Affected person may also suffer from shock and may damage fat, skin and tissues that cover the muscles; this is technically known as gangrene. In some cases flesh eating bacteria may also cause failure of organ and death.
The condition is often diagnosed by a doctor by first probing you on experienced symptoms. He may ask you about sudden onset of the symptoms and quickness of infection metastasis. Doctor may suggest biopsy of the infected tissues to check for bacterial infection. Doctor may also suggest other advanced tests such as X-rays, Computer Tomography scan (CT scan) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging tests. This will help the expert to detect any injuries to the organ and to determine how much the infection is metastasized.
It is crucial to opt for immediate treatment for the condition. The sooner the condition is addressed the better will be remission. This will also help in avoiding serious complications such as amputation of affected area or death. In serious cases patient is admitted in the ICU. There is a special test called LRINEC or Laboratory Risk Indicator for Necrotizing Fasciitis, which is done to determine the risk to the affected individual.
Treatment for Flesh eating bacteria
It is better to treat the condition at earliest which is usually presumptive. Antibiotic treatment is often suggested initially which are given intravenously and in combination. These medicines may include piperacilling, vancomycin as well as clindamycin.
In case of flesh eating bacteria advanced surgical debridement is often necessary to avoid the condition from spreading and aggravating further. Suitable surgery is determined based on symptoms, signs and intensity of the condition. Experts state that hyperbaric oxygen treatment can also be helpful adjunctive therapy; however, it is not widely available. In serious cases wherein the condition has seriously aggravated, affected limbs may have to be amputated. Most people with progressed Necrotizing Fasciitis may need to stay under intensive care and constant surveillance.