News 8 On Call: What is Necrotizing Fasciitis, the flesh-eating bacteria?

Health News

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – The recent case of a New Britain man diagnosed with the so called flesh-eating bacteria, whose leg was reportedly amputated, is prompting a lot of questions.

Necrotizing Fasciitis is a skin & soft tissue infection, and is extremely rare. Many of us though know it as a flesh-eating condition.

Epidemiologist Dr. Luke Davis with Yale School of Public Health explains, “I think it’s a way for people to understand about what is really happening…that these are common bacteria that for some reason produce a toxin. A toxin is a chemical poison that gets into the skin and can destroy the connective tissue that surrounds the muscle and the blood vessels underneath the skin.”

What causes it?

He answers, “Certain bacteria that can cause this, so streptococcal infection, sometimes staphylococcal infection. These are common infection that we deal with everyday. Everyday strep throats. In some very rare cases, the bacteria which exists in the skin or the throat can cross through small cuts in the skin and create these type of severe skin and soft tissue infections.”

Is getting into a body of water linked to contracting the infection?

“We think its probably not in the water, based on the surveillance that’s done of the quality of water,” says Dr. Davis, “There are rare cases where bacteria that exist in the water can, quite unusual bacteria, can cause these infections, but again these are extremely rare.”

He goes onto say, “We don’t understand exactly how it happens but probably when the skin is open, underneath the water. It’s good for the people to get out, to make sure they clean their skin and make sure there’s no possibility of infection, or even to stay out of the water if you have an open wound.”

What are the symptoms of Necrotizing Fasciitis?

“This would be severe pain with the skin relatively okay or potentially seeing abnormalities in multiple areas of the skin,” he says, “If people see darkening of the skin, if people see deep bruises, particularly if these are things that are developing very rapidly. Over a matter of a few hours. You go from the skin looking very normal to seeing something abnormal.”

Are cases becoming more common?

Dr. Davis says, “I don’t think that we know that these are becoming more common at this point. There’s no evidence in terms of the reports that are coming into the Department of Public Health in the state of Connecticut or nationally.”

Dr. Davis stresses — don’t ignore that feeling of something is not right. Get it checked out as quickly as possible. Antibiotics are effective when caught early.

He says people with weakened immune systems, diabetes and kidney failure are among those more at risk.

The CDC says up to one in three people with it, die from the infection.

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