Necrotizing Fasciitis Kills One in Four

skin eating bacterial disease

Necrotizing fasciitis is sometimes called “flesh eating disease.” It is a rare bacterial infection that rapidly destroys the body’s soft tissue covering the muscles caused by more than one type of bacteria but Group A is considered cause of necrotizing fasciitis. Group A bacteria infections are easily treated because they are moderate and mild but the toxins they make can destroy the infected tissue.  One out of four people who get Necrotizing Fasciitis die from it.

Jeff Hanneman, guitarist and co-founder of the band Slayer died of alcohol-related cirrhosis, but he contracted necrotizing fasciitis from a spider bite in 2010. His case was so severe doctors have to do emergency surgery to remove the dead and dying tissue. He was in a medically induced coma for several days, required skin grafts for over two months and was put on heavy doses of antibiotics to help him fight the infection.

In March, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against the use of a cancer treatment drug called Avastin because it has been linked to the life-threatening infection necrotizing fasciitis. In Canada, 5,000 to 10,000 patients receive Avastin every year. While this could just be a rare complication, Health Canada issued a warning to health providers on Monday and a public warning on Thursday.

Necrotizing fasciitis threatened the life of former leader of the Bloc Québéco, Lucien Bouchard in 1994, and he was forced to have his leg amputated. The makers of Avastin plan to include warning about necrotizing fasciitis in their product information.

Necrotizing Fasciitis Causes

The most common cause of getting necrotizing fasciitis is when the bacteria enter the body through a punctured wound, a scrape, a cut, burn, scrape, or insect bite. Once the bacteria enter your body, it spread rapidly. They infect fat layers of a membrane called fascia, as well as connective bands of tissue that surrounds your nerves, muscles, and blood vessels.

However, once you get necrotizing fasciitis your body’s immunity to fight the infection decreases, if they have other health problems like kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions. For people with liver disease, the fatality is approximately 50%, but if he recovers, there will be no long-term consequences.

The infection is diagnosed based on how your symptoms started and how quickly the infection is progressing. The infected tissue may be tested for bacteria. You will need a CT scan, X-ray, of MRI to find out the spread of the infection. Typically, by the time you are seen by your doctor, you are already very ill.  This is a medical emergency requiring hospital admittance, high dose of antibiotics, as well as supportive care for shock and organ failure. Your chances of getting this infection are extremely low if you practice good hygiene; you’re healthy, and have a strong immune system.

Confusing Necrotizing Fasciitis Symptoms

Some people with necrotizing fasciitis have soreness or severe pain similar to a pulled muscle, and the skin may be purplish or red on the areas of swelling that spreads rapidly. There could also be blisters, ulcers, or black spots on the skin. It may be followed with fatigue, chills, fever or vomiting. If you feel you have these symptoms you should see your doctor right away or seek medical attention.

Strong intravenous antibiotics are the first line of defense against this disease. However, since the bacteria, toxins can reduce the blood flow and destroy soft tissues, the antibiotics may not reach the decaying areas. This is why an immediate surgical procedure to remove the dead tissues is necessary to stop the infection.

Here, are some of the preventive measures you can take:

• When visiting wet markets, avoid leg or foot contact with dirty water.
• Do not expose broken skin or open wound to salty water or seawater.
• Wounds must be thoroughly cleaned and covered.
• When handling raw shellfish, wear thick rubber gloves.

CDC Tracks Necrotizing Fasciitis

CDC uses the Active Bacterial Core surveillance (ABCs) system to track distinct infections in the US which includes Group A necrotizing fasciitis in collaboration with universities, and state health departments. It is an important part of CDCs Emerging Infections Programs (EPI) network to look for rising cases trends and share the information to public health professionals.

Although about 650-800 necrotizing fasciitis cases are caused by group A strep is reported every year, some cases are probably not reported at all. However, according to ABCs data, annual infections are not rising.

If you are on Avastin and develops unusual signs or symptoms of the infection,  contact your health-care professional immediately.


Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas


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