There really are flesh eating bacteria...
I know that there is always that scene in a horror or Sci-Fi movie where someone is getting their flesh eaten off, and every now and again we hear about flesh eating bacteria in the news, and everyone always thinks that is could never happen to them. The reality is that it CAN happen to you, and it is rare, but the way it occurs is pretty innocuous; it doesn't always occur because people are in the middle of a rain forest and bitten by a random bug, it occurs to people all over the US and all over the world.
What is necrotizing fasciitis?
It is, in fact, a bacteria that destroys the skin, muscle, and surrounding tissues. It is usually an infection caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, and the reaction is fast and can be deadly. The bacteria enters your skin through any form of cut, scrape, wound, or any other opening in the skin, and it begins to spread and release harmful toxins as it grows, which kill your flesh. So as it grows, it is killing you. Literally! The toxins kill your tissues, impede blood flow to the area, and spread rapidly.
What are the symptoms?
You may just have a small red colored bump on your skin, that may be painful when you touch it. It will quickly grow larger and turn to more of a purple color, then turn black and appear to die. It may become fluid filled and start to weep (or ooze) fluids. All of these changes will happen in about an hour after becoming infected, and you will just feel crappy, have a fever, chills, nausea, dizziness, weakness, and you can go into shock very quickly.
Are there any tests? How do I know I have it?
If you have any of the symptoms, go see your HCP, and they usually will diagnose necrotizing fasciitis (nec fasc) using CT Scans and form your symptoms. Because it is so fast spreading and can quickly cause death, most likely, they may take a fluid sample to send to the lab for testing, but if nec fasc is suspected, you will be taken to the OR quickly, and the lab may not even have the results yet.
Is there anything I can do to prevent it?
Clean all cuts and scrapes thoroughly, use an antibacterial ointment, and hope for the best. Really, there is nothing else to do.
The recovery can be very tough, a some people will make it through the surgery, in which the infected tissues are removed, but their body is so damaged from the infection they cannot fight it off, despite lots of IV fluids, antibiotics (broad coverage), and sometimes limbs need to be amputated (removed). If you are ever worried that you have nec fasc, get to an Emergency Department immediately and seek treatment, it is a medical emergency and it occurs quickly and it is deadly. So please learn the signs, and know that any small cut or scrape can be an entrance for a killer bacteria.
Yours in Good Health