Flesh-eating bacteria — necrotizing fasciitis — is an infectious disease that kills the body’s soft tissue.
Here are 10 things to know about flesh-eating bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
The bacteria eats away at the body’s soft tissue — flesh, connective tissue, fat, muscle.
The bacteria can enter the body through a break in the skin — cuts, burns, surgical bites, etc. — in open water. But often, the bacteria are ingested in raw or undercooked seafood, causing diarrhea.
A person infected with necrotizing fasciitis through and open wound can worsen within hours. Early symptoms include a red or swollen area of skin that spreads quickly, severe pain worse than a person would expect based on the wound’s appearance.
Later symptoms can include ulcers, blisters, changes in skin color, pus around the infected area, fatigue or nausea.
Antibiotics and surgery are typically the first lines of defense in treated a flesh-eating bacteria. If antibiotics cannot reach all of the infected areas because the bacteria have killed too much tissue and reduced blood flow, doctors have to surgically remove the dead tissue, which can result in limb amputation.
People with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of contracting the disease because their bodies natural defenses are low. Those with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, should take more caution with open wounds.
Group A Streptococcus is the most common cause of necrotizing fasciitis, but many other bacteria can also lead to the infection. Vibrio bacteria are one group that can cause this infection. Vibrio vulnificus, is particularly dangerous, and usually is contracted when an open wound comes into contact with coastal saltwater.
It is very rare for someone to spread necrotizing fasciitis to other people and most cases occur randomly.
Yearly, between 700 to 1,200 cases of necrotizing fasciitis are diagnosed in the U.S., although the CDC notes that this is likely an underestimate. About 25 percent to 30 percent of those cases result in death.
Physicians have reported seeing more cases of flesh-eating bacteria in the past decade.
Those with open wounds should take caution swimming in hot tubs, lakes, ponds, oceans or other open bodies of water.