Flesh-eating disease

Necrotizing soft tissue infection or
Necrotizing Fasciitis  is a rare but very
severe type of bacterial infection that
can destroy the muscles, skin, and
underlying tissue. Necrotizing refers to
something that causes tissue death.
Many different types of bacteria can
cause this type of infection. A very
severe and usually deadly form of
necrotizing soft tissue infection is due
to Streptococcus pyogenes, which is
sometimes called "flesh-eating
bacteria."

Necrotizing soft tissue infection
develops when the bacteria enters the
body, usually through a minor cut or
scrape. The bacteria begins to grow
and release harmful substances
(toxins) that:

  • Directly kill tissue
  • Interfere with the blood flow to
    the tissue
  • Break down materials in the
    tissue, which rapidly spreads the
    bacteria, leading to widespread
    effects such as shock

Powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics
must be given immediately through a
vein (IV). Surgery is required to open
and drain infected areas and remove
dead tissue. Sometimes donor
immunoglobulins (antibodies) are
given by vein to help fight the infection.

Skin grafts may be needed after the
infection goes away. If an arm or leg
infection cannot be controlled,
amputation of the limb may be
considered.

If the bacteria is determined to be an
oxygen-avoiding organism (anaerobe),
the patient may receive hyperbaric
oxygen therapy. This involves placing
the patient in a chamber that delivers
100% oxygen at high pressure.

Any time all of the early symptoms are
present, go to a doctor at once, and
insist that this be ruled out. The vast
majority of cases are misdiagnosed.
People have been told that they had
fallen, when they didn't, they have had
casts put on bones that were not
broken, have been given Tylenol for
flu and been told to come back the
next day; they have been told they
have an ingrown toenail, they've been
told they have arthritis; they've been
accused of burning themselves...many
of these people have gone back to the
hospital two days later and died. Insist
that this be ruled out if you have all of
the early symptoms.

Why are so many cases of NF
misdiagnosed?

Because the beginning symptoms look
like so many other minor afflictions.
None of the symptoms are exclusive to
this, and until the patient is so ill that
they are critical many health care
workers don't consider NF. Although
the disease is on the increase
worldwide, it is still considered
uncommon, so many emergency
rooms may never have seen a case
before.