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Who's in danger to catch deadly flesh-eating bacteria?

D. Alwinsky, M.D. ▼ | September 3, 2016
'Flesh-eating infection,' caused by bacteria, is a very dangerous bacterial skin infection that spreads quickly. But, contrary to screaming media headlines, the picture is not so dark as it may seem.
Necrotizing fasciitis
Public health    Necrotizing fasciitis has seemingly harmless symptoms at first
Necrotizing fasciitis, a serious bacterial skin infection that destroys the soft tissue, is a dangerous condition that must be taken care of very quickly or consequences may be deadly.

Known as a "flesh-eating infection," this condition can be caused by several types of bacteria. These are group A Streptococcus, Klebsiella, Clostridium, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Aeromonas hydrophila.

In the case of necrotizing fasciitis, bacteria in the body spread quickly and infect fascia - connective tissue that surrounds muscles, nerves, fat, and blood vessels. The infection also damages the tissues around it and toxins made by these bacteria destroy the tissue. When tissue dies, the infection can result in loss of limbs or death and urgent medical help is needed.

The problem here is that symptoms are very diverse and very confusing.

The most common way of getting necrotizing fasciitis is when the bacteria enter the body through a cut or similar skin damage. After that, within hours, symptoms appear.

They may be pain, soreness, swollen areas, red or purple skin, blister may appear, and there can be black spots on the skin. After that, there are fever or chills, fatigue and vomiting. All those symptoms are so general, and they may delay going to the doctor greatly and there's where the danger lies.

So, when to see the doctor?

The answer is easy: If you have a wound and notice those symptoms, go see the nearest doctor as quickly as possible. If the doctor is examining something that looks like a small wound and the pain is way out of proportion, that's a good reason to think about necrotizing fasciitis.

It is good to know that most cases of necrotizing fasciitis are not linked to infections in other people and the condition is rarely spread from person to person.

The doctor may take a biopsy, and use blood tests, CT, or MRI scan to diagnose necrotizing fasciitis.

If necrotizing fasciitis is diagnosed, strong antibiotics are given into a vein. The problem here is, bacteria destroys soft tissue: that reduces blood flow and antibiotics can't reach infected areas.

That's why a surgery is need, during which all dead tissue must be removed - and antibiotics therapy continues - to stop the infection. When it comes to that, there's no other choice: the procedure must be radical and there's no room for "How will I look like?" because that surgery is a fight for life.

The outlook in a particular case depends entirely on the severity of the condition.

Early diagnosis is crucial because without prompt treatment, this infection can be fatal. In some cases one surgical procedure will help, in other cases there will be several of them, one patient will have a scar, another will have the limb amputated because each case is unique.

So, what's not so black?

The point is: If you are healthy and take care of wounds, chances of getting necrotizing fasciitis are very low. The problem is when people have other health conditions and compromised immune system.

How to prevent necrotizing fasciitis?

First, treat every wound properly, even the smallest one. Wounds must be cleaned and covered with bandages until they heal. Persons with open wounds or any break in the skin - we must emphasize: any break! - should avoid waters of all kinds, from lakes and rivers to swimming pools and oceans.

If you keep basic hygiene and have strong immune system, chances are you will never encounter that scary condition.