by Kimberly Allen, RN
Necrotizing Fasciitis is more commonly known as the “flesh eating bacteria.” In recent days, in Honduras, there has been some very worried people walking around as 6 people have died up in the country from the flesh eating bacteria. Here they call it “come carne,” which in English means flesh eating. Many remember there was an epidemic 10 years ago in Costa Rica that infected many of it’s citizens.
Necrotizing fasciitis, though considered rare, can occur in anyone with an open wound or infection. People that already have compromised immune systems, like those with diabetes as well as people that are taking immunosuppresive medications including those on chemotherapy, have a much greater chance of developing necrotizing fasciitis.
Most cases of necrotizing fasciitis are caused by bacteria, though on rare occasions it is caused by fungus or other organisms. There are several different bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis including group A streptococcus and staphylococcus aureus as well as clostridium, E-coli, and Klebsiella. Most cases are caused by group A streptococcus either alone or with another bacteria genre. Many times when cultured there is also a mix of non anaerobic bacteria like psuedomonas, Klebsiella and e-coli as well as others. These organisms destroy sufficient areas of tissue to cause localized areas of hypoxia, which means there is a decreased oxygen supply. Anaerobic bacteria thrive in this type of environment spreading the infection even further. This then develops into whats called a polymicrobic infection which is when one bacteria assists and promotes the survival and growth of another bacteria.
The symptoms of necrtizing fasciitis usually appear suddenly with in 24 hours of exposure you will start to experience symptoms. The first symptom is pain around the opening where the bacteria entered your body that starts mild but rapidly increases in severity. Most people also experience nausea, diarrhea, fever and weakness. Then in the next 3-4 days the skin around the wound will become inflamed and develop a purple rash, there may also be darker areas that blister and fill with dark fluid. By the time you’ve been infected 4-5 days your body goes into toxic shock syndrome due to the toxins being produced traveling through out your body. Flesh eating bacteria usually attack wounds on the hand/arms and legs/feet as well as the abdomen and is fatal in 30% – 40% of the cases.
Treatment for necrotizing fasciitis always involves intravenous antibiotics and surgery to remove the dead tissue. The effectiveness of treatment depends on how soon after exposure treatment begins as well as your general health status.
The best way to prevent flesh eating bacteria from infecting your body is proper wound care and good hygiene. Always wash any cut or scrape with soap and water immediately after injury. Then keep it clean and dry. It’s also a good idea to apply antibiotic ointment before covering it. Any type of puncture wound that penetrates shoes or sneakers carries a significant risk and should be evaluated by a octor. Report any symptoms of infection like redness, swelling, fever or increased pain as well as any drainage to your doctor.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.