Flesh Eating Bacteria
Rarely, bacteria may cause necrotizing fasciitis, also known as “flesh eating” in the lay world because the bacteria destroy living tissue. As the name indicates, these bacteria can be a devastating medical problem, causing death or amputation of a limb. Especially worrisome is that necrotizing fasciitis begins with a minor trauma, such as a cut on a hand or foot from an oyster. And even worse, it can come from any cut that gets infected with a particular bacterium. It can even occur after surgery.
The most common form of flesh eating bacterium is group A beta-hemolytic streptococci, but other mixed organisms also can be the culprit. When the organism is encountered in a hospital, it can be particularly problematic because some are immune to standard antibiotics. The streptococci release toxins that destroy tissue. The toxins feed the organisms and occlude blood supply to the infected area, causing gangrene. Other devastating toxins spread along the body’s fascial planes, resulting in shock, organ failure and even death. So, a minor cut can become life-threatening under unfortunate circumstances:
- Violation of the skin by an abrasion or cut – even very minor (as with an oyster)
- Infection with the virulent bacteria group A beta-hemolytic streptococci
Early symptoms include pain and reddening at the site. Within hours, the redness around the cut or abrasion expands and a vesicle forms, which turns black as underlying tissue is destroyed. Burning and itching may occur when the body releases defensive compounds to combat the infection. Bleeding into the skin and pus and drainage at the infection site also can occur. Nausea, fever, dizziness and shock are later symptoms. If left untreated, death can occur in less than a week.
Treatment is large doses of broad spectrum antibiotics that must be given intravenously. In some cases, surgery may be required to open and drain infection from the wounds. Occasionally, amputations are required to control the spread of the infection. Even with this treatment, mortality can occur with a relatively high rate of up to 25 percent. If kidney failure occurs, mortality may be as high as 70 percent. Survival rates are highest with earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Prevention requires cleaning any abrasion or cut with alcohol. Always keep a watchful eye on cuts, no matter how minor — especially during the first day. If the symptoms mentioned above occur, call or visit your physician.
The terrible truth about this rare condition is that it starts with a minor cut and can quickly become limb and life threatening. Vigilance is key with any cut, no matter how seemingly minor. This tip is just one more way to enjoy healthy aging.
Skin Wounds & Injuries
Specific treatment for skin wounds and injuries will be determined by your physician. In general, call your physician for skin injuries that are:
- bleeding heavily and do not stop after five to 10 minutes of direct pressure
- deep or longer than 1/2 inch
- located close to the eye
- large cuts on the face
- caused by a puncture wound or dirty or rusty object embedded with debris such as dirt, stones, or gravel ragged or have separated edges caused by an animal or human bite
- excessively painful showing signs of infection such as increased warmth, redness, swelling, or drainage
Also call your physician if:
- you are unsure when your last tetanus shot was given or if it has been more than five years
- you are concerned about the wound or have any questions