It seems that many people today have infatuations with extreme diseases. Even though common diseases such as heart disease, Tuberculosis, and cancer kill thousands a year, we tend to fear the few rare diseases that kill suddenly or horrifically. One of these diseases is Necrotizing Fasciitis, or more commonly known as the flesh-eating disease. Just hearing the phrase “flesh-eating” can strike fear into ones heart; seeing pictures of the effects of the disease can cause one to feel sick. I intend to share information about this disease that many may not know; whether that information will ease your troubled mind or to only cause you to cringe even more will soon be seen.
The common name itself is a bit deceiving. This disease does not actually consume the victims flesh, but instead it merely causes the death of the flesh (or necrosis) around the affected area. The disease can destroy skin, fat and the tissue that surrounds muscles. Due to its ability to spread quickly the disease can cause the loss of an entire limb within hours, and death within days. About 1 in 4 people that contract Necrotizing Fasciitis die from it (1). These survivors being those that quickly obtained medical help, if medical attention is not sought out, death is eminent. The disease rarely occurs in children, though it can occur within countries where poor hygiene is prevalent, and occurs more often with males than females (2).
The infection usually starts around open cuts, sores, or injection sites. The infection can also be received from various other odd things such as injuries obtained from: handling sea creatures like crabs, intestinal surgery or gunshot wound to the intestines, a muscle strain or a bruise, even if skin is not broken, rashes caused by viral infections such as chickenpox, a weakened immune system, chronic health problems such as cancer or diabetes, and from wounds coming in contact with sea water, raw saltwater fish, or raw oysters (1). Interestingly, in some studies it has shown that as many as 35% of those that had been infected with Necrotizing Fasciitis were alcoholics (2). Drug addicts that use dirty syringes are also at a much higher risk of contracting the disease.
The infection can be caused by a variety of bacteria, but is generally caused by Group A Streptococcus. This bacterium is not rare, but is indeed the same bacterium that causes strep throat. In very rare cases the bacteria is able to penetrate our immune system, in which case it becomes Necrotizing Fasciitis. When the GAS (Group A Streptococcus) is found parts where bacteria is usually not found it becomes “invasive.” Even then it does not mean that the person will get Necrotizing Fasciitis. There is an average of 9,000 to 11,500 cases of invasive GAS; out of those cases 6% to 7% become STSS, which is another serious disease or Necrotizing Fasciitis. Measures to prevent infection are typical: wash your hands, stay home when your sick, and keep wounds clean (3).
Early symptoms include the following: red and swollen skin that may be feel hot, fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and pain from a wound that was getting better but suddenly gets much worse (the pain could something much worse than would be expected from the size of the original injury) (1). After these symptoms it takes a turn for the worse: red streaks leading from the wound, pus draining from the wound, the flesh will die, and the patient may suffer shock, organ failure and eventually death (1). To cure the disease doctors immediately place the patient on antibiotics, often the only solution is to perform surgery and remove the flesh that has been infected. It may be necessary to remove all flesh that has been infected. Depending on the severity of the infection, this could result in amputations (2).
While all of these things may seem quite scary, one should understand the possibility of contracting this disease is extremely low. As long as a person tries to stay healthy and clean the chances will remain low. While this may not be comforting to all, some might relax in the fact that there are plenty of other diseases and even more other ways that could easily kill you before you would ever get Necrotizing Fasciitis. It’s a crazy world, be safe and have fun! Works Cited
- “Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria).” WebMD (2009): Web. 18 Apr 2010. .
- Maynor M.D., Michael. “Necrotizing Fasciitis.” emedicine. WebMD, 2009. Web. 18 Apr 2010. .
- “Group A Streptococcal (GAS) Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department for Health and Human Services, 03 Apr 2008. Web. 18 Apr 2010. .