About Necrotizing Fasciitis and the Flesh-Eating Bacteria Behind It
The flesh-eating bacteria is the culprit behind necrotizing fasciitis. Although it is usually a rare occurrence, this flesh-eating bacterial infection is very serious and severely harmful to those who have developed it. Necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria disease, is an infection that starts below the skin, beginning in the tissues, before it begins to spread along the fascia that separate the tissue layers. It is a serious infection that impacts, most commonly, the regions of the arms, legs, and the abdomen. It is, unfortunately, fatal to patients who develop the bacteria in 30%-40% of cases. The chance of patients making a full recovery from the bacteria decreases the longer the bacteria is allowed to spread.
The common bacterium associated with this type of infection is Streptococcus pyogene. It is a member of the strep family of bacteria. Strep bacteria are also the cause of a very painful sore throat and toxic shock syndrome. Other bacteria could also be the cause of necrotizing fasciitis, such as Aeromonas hydrophila.1
The Effects of Flesh-Eating Bacteria on the Body
General symptoms of the disease are swelling, pain, redness, blisters, nausea, vomiting, and fever. The onset of symptoms is rapid. Late symptoms include effects to the skin such as scaling, discoloration, peeling of the skin, and gangrene. Patients who already suffer from chronic disorders and weak immune systems, such as with cancer and diabetes, are most at risk of getting necrotizing fasciitis. However, many healthy people can get it as well. Wounds, surgery, rash, and viral infections, such as chickenpox, are also risk factors.2
When the bacteria enter the body, they release toxins that kill the tissue. After the tissue is dead, the bacteria spread through the body via the blood and continue to release toxins. If the body cannot be treated successfully, sepsis, which is a blood infection, can occur. Scarring, loss of limb use, or even death can occur as well.3 Other bacteria associated with necrotizing fasciitis are staphylococcal species and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). MRSA can be introduced to the body through the consumption of undercooked meats, exposure to wastewater, and using dirty needles.4 One man developed a “rare double infection” in two areas of the body, which eventually led to a coma.5
Treatment and Prevention
Medical treatment for necrotizing fasciitis, once it has been diagnosed, begins with the use of antibiotics. These are administered to the patient intravenously. Usually, a combination of a few different types of antibiotics are used, as antibiotics are the most effective method of treatment against bacteria. Patients who are undergoing treatment with the use of antibiotics should increase their intake of “good” bacteria through the consumption of yogurt or probiotics. Antibiotics are designed to get rid of all bacteria, and they are unable to discriminate between the bacteria which provide a positive impact on the body and those which are harmful. The sooner that treatment begins after the flesh-eating bacteria have been identified, the more likely patients will be able to recover.
Surgical debridement should be able to remove the infected tissues. This is to prevent it from continuing to spread and cause damage throughout the body. An additional therapy, when the option is available, is hyperbaric oxygen treatment. Some patients may require limb amputation if the infection has become too severe. Skin grafting may also be necessary, due to leaving a large open wound when removing the areas of affected tissue. This often leads to a “systemic inflammatory response”, requiring the patients to remain for an extended stay in the intensive care unit of the hospital, perhaps even in the burn ward.
Preventing the Spread of the Bacteria
It is critical that the environment remains antiseptic to prevent this disease from spreading to other patients, visitors, or medical personnel within the hospital.6 Hospitals can transmit flesh-eating bacteria through catheters and feeding tubes. This can affect anyone who comes into contact with infected medical equipment, from cardiac patients through newborns.
Dealing with Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria
Sometimes these bacteria are antibiotic-resistant and difficult to treat, such as is the case of MRSA. Some new research has shown that herbal extracts may be able to help deter the growth of Staphylococcus epidermidis. A formula which contains the ingredients of arrowroot, the bark of the Indian trumpet tree, and the whole of the plant parts of tropical spiderwort were found to have inhibited these bacteria. In another formula, turmeric, areca palm seed, Asian rice seed, and mangosteen showed the results of inhibition of the biofilm growth. The promise of this research is that these combinations can prevent the growth of this staph bacteria on polystyrene and glass surfaces, which are often found in hospitals. Perhaps these extracts can help to prevent infections of flesh-eating bacteria which are acquired in the hospital.7
Read more about antibiotic overuse.