While this little plushy microbe might look pretty cute and cuddly, this is one critter you do NOT want to come into contact with.
The more proper name for the disease caused by this bacteria is necrotizing fasciitis which is a fancy way of saying that the toxins produced by the bacteria causes death of the fascia (connective tissue that basically surrounds tissues and organs and holds us together). The term flesh-eating isn’t really very accurate since the bacteria don’t actually eat anything. They just divide and secrete toxins that cause massive inflammation and death of the tissues they have invaded. And since bacteria can divide rapidly, they can quickly spread into vital areas (chest and abdominal cavity) and have huge effects on major organ systems. People with this will be in large amounts of pain and will have a fever, may vomit and have diarrhea. Without immediate surgery to remove the dead tissue and antibiotics to help kill the bacteria, the patient will go into toxic shock and death will follow soon thereafter.
There isn’t only one bacteria that causes the flesh-eating disease. The most common are Streptococcus pyogens and Staphylococcus aureus but plenty of others can also cause flesh-eating disease: Clostridium perfringens, Bacteroides fragilis, Aeromonas hydrophila.
Most people that contract flesh-eating bacteria have compromised immune systems from things like diabetes, alcoholism, cancer, etc. But there have been healthy people that have been infected with necrotizing fasciitis so being young and healthy doesn’t always mean you can’t be infected.
This week’s Dr. Fab’s Microbes was prompted by an episode of Law and Order: SVU where a rapist sliced his victim across her palm. While in the hospital, she contracted something called MRSA (methicilllin-resistant Staph. aureus). This particular strain of Staph is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin. Methicillin is part of the family of antibiotics known as beta-lactams. All of the -illins (penicillin, ampicillin, etc) fit into this family so this bacteria will be resistant to pretty much all of them. The victim’s doctor said she had contracted MRSA that had then gone on to cause necrotizing fasciitis which had caused her liver and kidneys to shut down. She was dead shortly after being admitted.
If caught early enough, doctors can give whopping doses of powerful antibiotics and surgically remove the dead tissue. If the damage is bad enough they may have to amputate the limb.
Peter Watts, a Canadian scifi author, contracted this disease and said that if there was ever a disease worthy of scifi, this was it. Read about his experience here. Just fair warning, the pictures are pretty gruesome.
And don’t forget, if you want your very own plushy microbes of your very favorite diseases, visit Giant Microbes today!