Flesh-eating bacteria in humans

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Streptococcus sp

Streptococcus sp

The term “flesh-eating bacteria” was originally used to describe the group A streptococci (GAS), such as Streptococcus pyogenes, that cause a rare infection.

Terms like flesh-eating or necrotizing have been used because the bacterial infection produces toxins that destroy tissues such as muscles, skin, and fat. However, the bacteria does not “eat” the flesh as the name suggests. GAS are the same bacteria that cause strep throat.

Flesh-eating bacteria infects people through wounds, minor cuts, insect bites or abrasions . The bacteria grow and release toxins that destroy tissues and affect blood flow to the affected areas. At advanced stage the bacteria enter the blood system and rapidly spread throughout the body. The majority of flesh-eating bacteria disease cases begin with an existing infection, most frequently on an extremity or in a wound.

Many other bacteria including some that thrive in oxygen-limited environments, for example inside the human body have been found to cause the fresh-eating bacteria disease.

Other bacteria associated with flesh-eating bacteria disease are Aeromonas hydrophila and Vibrio vulnificus.

Recent cases of flesh-eating bacteria disease

Recent cases of flesh-eating bacteria involved the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus. Two people in Florida got the infection and one of them died. People usually come into contact with Vibrio vulnificus by consuming raw shellfish and swimming in water with open wounds.

Symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, ulcers and the breakdown of skin.

Who is at risk of flesh-eating bacteria infection?

Generally, people with weakened immune systems such as those who suffer from liver disease and HIV Aids are at higher risk of infection. Studies have shown that risk of Vibrio vulnificus infection in people with pre-existing medical conditions were 30% higher than the general population. Treatment of people infected by Vibrio vulnificus through open wounds may involve amputation to ensure recovery.

Treatment of flesh-eating bacteria disease

Treatment of an infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria involves antibiotics and surgery to drain the sore and remove dead tissue.

Mold & Bacteria Consulting Labs (MBL) offer both a comprehensive bacteria testing service along with training and education resources on mold and bacteria. If you have questions about this article, please contact us to discuss further.

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Dr Jackson Kung'u
Dr. Jackson Kung’u is a Microbiologist who has specialized in the field of mycology (the study of moulds and yeasts). He is a member of the Mycological Society of America. He graduated from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, with a Masters degree in Fungal Technology and a PhD in Microbiology. He has published several research papers in international scientific journals. Jackson has analyzed thousands of mould samples from across Canada. He also regularly teaches a course on how to recognize mould, perform effective sampling and interpret laboratory results. Jackson provides how-to advice on mould and bacteria issues. Get more information about indoor mould and bacteria at www.drjacksonkungu.com.
Dr Jackson Kung'u

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