Necrotizing Fasciitis - AKA: The Flesh-Eater
With the debilitating infection back in the limelight, let’s take a closer look at necrotizing fasciitis to find out what it is, what it can do, and why it presents such a dangerous challenge for medical professionals.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been glued to the story about the 24-year-old Georgia graduate student that is fighting off a rare flesh-eating bacterial infection she contracted after an injury on a zip-line. Necrotizing fasciitis, which is wreaking havoc on her body, is a bacterial infection that can destroy muscles, skin and tissue; and can lead to serious complications and death. While a few different types of bacteria can cause an infection like this, the severe and usually deadly form is termed Streptococcus pyogenes, and it represents the “flesh-eating” debilitation we’ve read about.
In Aimee Copeland’s case, chronicled online by her father’s blog, the infection has already resulted in a complete left leg amputation, with a further procedure possible to remove her hands and remaining foot. What started as a gash in her calf when a zip-line snapped on May 1st hasn’t ended yet. The original wound was treated with 22 staples and an early release, but Copeland was soon diagnosed with the flesh-eating disease when her condition worsened. And even though this severe problem is extremely rare, it is becoming slightly more common, with two other cases reported recently in South Carolina. In fact, the most recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were as many as 1,500 cases of necrotizing fasciitis annually, with about 20 percent of them fatal. But most healthcare researchers agree that those numbers are most likely on the low side.
So what can you do to fight this powerful bug? Well, immediate treatment is necessary in order to stave off the more dire consequences. That can include broad-spectrum antibiotics, surgery to remove the dead tissue and surrounding areas to prevent spreading, and special medicines called donor immunoglobulins to help fight the infection.
As for the symptoms to look for, any small red lump or bump on the skin could be an early indication. If it changes to a very painful bruise and grows rapidly, you should absolutely get it checked out; especially if you’re also feeling any classic flu-type symptoms. From there, blood tests, skin biopsy and a CT scan can all help you diagnose your condition.
But what about Aimee Copeland? For now, like the rest of the world, I’m waiting on new information. She is credited with a fighter’s spirit, and she’s going to need it against an infection like necrotizing fasciitis.
Because this super-bug is one super-bad diagnosis to receive.
Board, A.D.A.M. Editorial. "Causes, Incidence, and Risk Factors." Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infection. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Nov. 0000. Web. 21 May 2012. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002415/>.
"Georgia Flesh-eating Bacteria." Chicagotribune.com. Web. 21 May 2012. <http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/sns-rt-us-usa-georgia-infectionbre84i0ee-20120519,0,2550098.story>.