Signs and Symptoms: Flesh Eating Bacteria

So what are the signs and symptoms that you should look out for if you suspect that you (or anyone you know) have flesh-eating bacteria aka necrotizing fasciitis?

Here’s some very basic guide from CBC (that’s Canadian Broadcasting which is not to be confused with CDC). According to CBC, in the early stages of necrotizing fasciitis, you may experience:

  • Severe pain and swelling.
  • Fever.
  • Redness at the site of a wound.

Sometimes, the infection starts at the site of a minor injury, such as a cut or a bruise, but in other times, like in the case of Nobel laureate Eric Cornell, there is no obvious source of infection.

As we noted in an earlier post, the flesh-eating bacteria belongs to the Group A Streptococuss (GAS) which causes strep throat.

GAS is generally mild but it can turn deadly if it invades that part of our body where bacterias should not go [blood, muscle, lungs, etc]. If that happens, you can develop necrotizing fasciitis or STSS (streptococall toxic shock syndrome the early signs and symptoms of which include:

  • Fever.
  • Abrupt onset of generalized or localized severe pain, often in an arm or leg.
  • Dizziness.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Confusion.
  • A flat red rash over large parts of the body, in about 10 per cent of cases.

As in the case of necrotizing fasciitis, an STSS infection can start at the site of a minor injury but sometimes there is no obvious source of infection at all.

More Questions and Answers about the bacteria that causes necrotizing fasciitis from CBC:

What is the risk?
Scientists don’t know why streptococcus bacteria causes only minor infections in some people but poses a serious threat to others.

According to Health Canada, some of the risk factors that have been identified include:

  • A weakened immune system, which could be caused by such factors as disease (HIV infection, AIDS), cancer treatments (radiation and chemotherapy), or by anti-rejection drugs taken following a bone marrow or organ transplant.
  • Chronic diseases, including heart, lung and liver disease.
  • Recent close contact with someone who has flesh-eating disease that was caused by group A streptococcus (GAS) bacteria.
  • Chickenpox infection. (It should be noted that while flesh-eating disease can be a complication of chickenpox in children, such occurrences are very rare.)

Should you be concerned about more serious illnesses if you contract strep throat?
No. Millions of people in North America get strep throat every year, but less than one in a million will actually develop flesh-eating disease or streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. The vast majority of group A streptococcal cases arise from skin and soft tissue disease, not from strep throat.

Can you get flesh-eating disease from someone else?
There is some evidence that people in close contact (more than four hours a day) with someone infected with flesh-eating disease are at increased risk of developing the condition. Although this risk is still low, most health authorities in Canada suggest also treating family members to decrease the risk.

How is invasive group A streptococcal disease treated?
Because the necrotizing fasciitis progresses so rapidly (the infection destroys tissue so quickly that it can cause death within 12 to 24 hours), treatment usually involves antibiotics to fight the infection and surgery to remove the infected tissue. There is no vaccine to prevent flesh-eating disease.

High doses of penicillin and clindamycin are used to treat both necrotizing fasciitis and STSS.

The key is to start treatment as early as possible.