Necrotizing fasciitis, which means the death of tissues, is an infection that is linked to bacteria. In its most severe forms, it is also known as flesh-eating bacteria, which can destroy not only the skin but also fat and tissue covering the muscles within a matter of days. When the disease occurs on the genitals, it is referred to as Fournier gangrene, which has a 75 percent mortality rate. This is one of the most severe and lethal forms of the disease. Flesh-eating bacteria are very rare but extremely precarious in nature. In fact, approximately 25 percent of the individuals who succumb to necrotizing fasciitis die from it. Moreover, many people who get necrotizing fasciitis are in good health prior to becoming infected with the disease. Here are 10 things to know about necrotizing fasciitis and flesh-eating bacteria.
1. Necrotizing fasciitis can result from several kinds of bacteria. Infections, such as impetigo and strep throat, can also result from similar forms of bacteria. However, the infections typically caused by these bacteria are mild in nature and easily treated. However, in extreme cases, they can result in very severe and life-threatening conditions. Infectious forms of bacteria include Group A Streptococcus (Group A Strep), which include Clostridium, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella, Aeromonas hydrophilia, and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) among others. Group A Strep is considered the most common cause of flesh-eating bacteria.
2. In cases of necrotizing fasciitis, the deadly bacteria spread rapidly once they enter the body. They infect the flat layers of a membrane known as the fascia, which are connective bands of tissue that surround nerves, muscles, fat, and blood vessels. The bacteria and subsequent infection can also damage the surrounding tissues next to the fascia. In many cases, toxins made by these bacteria destroy the muscle, tissue, and fat layers they infect. Thus, causing the death of the membranes. When the bacteria become this severe, the infection is very serious and can result in loss of life or limbs.
3. Necrotizing fasciitis can occur in a variety of ways. One way can involve bacteria entering through a break in the skin (e.g. cut, insect bite, burn, or another type of wound). Additional methods of contracting flesh-eating bacteria include severe infection of an intestinal surgery site, via tumors and/or gunshot injuries in the intestines, injuries from handling sea animals such as jellyfish or crabs, wounds that come in direct contact with ocean water, raw oysters, or other raw saltwater lifeforms, and muscle strains or bruises, even if there is no break in the skin.
4. The risk of contracting flesh-eating bacteria is higher when an individual has a compromised immune system, skin cuts (e.g. surgical wounds), had a recent bout of chickenpox or other viral infections that result in a skin rash, uses steroid medicines, which can reduce the body’s resistance to infection, or a person has chronic health problems such as cancer, diabetes, kidney, or liver disease.
5. The bacteria that results in necrotizing fasciitis can be passed from person to person via direct contact (e.g. touching the wound of the infected person). However, flesh-eating bacteria rarely occur unless the person who is exposed to the bacteria has a compromised immune system, chickenpox, or an open wound.
Additional things to know about necrotizing fasciitis and flesh-eating bacteria include the following:
6. An individual’s chances of contracting necrotizing fasciitis are very low if a person is healthy, has a strong immune system, practices proper wound care, and good hygiene. Practicing good hygiene, proper wound care protocol, and using common sense are the best ways to prevent a bacterial skin infection.
7. Proper wound care measures include keeping draining or open wounds covered with clean, dry bandages until they are healed, avoid using whirlpools, hot tubs, and swimming pools until open wounds and active infections are healed, administer prompt first aid to even minor, non-infected wounds such as scrapes, blisters, or any break in the skin, and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleanser (if washing is not possible) when tending to any wounds.
8. Symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis often start within a few hours after an injury and may demonstrate symptoms of another illness or injury. For instance, some people infected with flesh-eating bacteria may complain of discomfort or pain associated with that of a pulled or strained muscle. Moreover, the skin may be warm to the touch with purplish or red areas of swelling that spread rapidly.
9. In addition to swelling and skin discoloration, there may also be blisters, ulcers, or black spots present on the skin. Patients who suffer from necrotizing fasciitis often complain of severe pain, which is way out of proportion to how the painful area looks when examined by a doctor. In many cases, fatigue, lethargy, fever, chills, and/or vomiting may follow the initial injury or soreness. Moreover, these perplexing symptoms may delay a person from seeking medical attention. If an individual experiences these symptoms after suffering a wound or injury, they should consult a doctor ASAP.
10. If someone has necrotizing fasciitis, strong antibiotics must be administered via IV directly into the veins as soon as possible. However, given that the bacterial toxins can destroy muscle, tissue, and reduce blood flow, antibiotics may not reach all of the infected and dying areas. In many cases, surgical exploration and removal of dead tissue, along with antibiotics, is often deemed necessary to stopping the infection.
The death of tissues that results from necrotizing fasciitis is an infection that is linked to bacteria. In its most severe forms, it is also known as flesh-eating bacteria, which can destroy not only the skin but also fat and tissue covering the muscles within a matter of days. When the disease occurs on the genitals, it is referred to as Fournier gangrene, which has a 75 percent mortality rate. This is one of the most severe and lethal forms of the disease. Flesh-eating bacteria are very rare but extremely precarious in nature. In fact, approximately 25 percent of the individuals who succumb to necrotizing fasciitis die from it. Moreover, many people who get necrotizing fasciitis are in good health prior to becoming infected with the disease. This article addresses 10 things to know about necrotizing fasciitis and flesh-eating bacteria. Hopefully, readers will have a better understanding about this potentially dangerous and life-threatening condition. They will know what to look out for and may even help save a few lives–their own or others.
Written and Edited By Leigh Haugh
International Business Times–Flesh-Eating Bacteria Could Claim Georgia Woman’s Hands And Feet
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–Necrotizing Fasciitis: A Rare Disease, Especially for the Healthy
WebMD–Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria): Topic Overview
MedicineNet–Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Disease)
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