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Guest Post: Flesh-eating bacteria

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I’m having a bit of a break this weekend catching up with my Dads-in-law. I’m pleased to present a guest post from Andy Wang who works as a Microbiology Research Associate at Emeryville Pharmaceutical Services.

Flesh Eating Bacteria Can Infect Anyone – What You Should Know

What is it?

Necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as flesh eating bacteria, infects various layers of the skin. In most cases, an immunocompromised individual, such as a smoker, drug addict, diabetic, or cancer patient is most vulnerable, although healthy individuals are also susceptible. A recent surge of media coverage for this disease has brought about widespread awareness – and here are some things you should know.

High magnification micrograph of necrotizing fasciitis. H&E stain - the purple sections are bacteria. Image credit below.

How does it infect?

The causal agent can be one of many infectious bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Clostridum perfringens, or Aeromonas hydrophila. These organisms can be part of normal human skin microflora or found in common settings such as a freshwater environment. Entry through just a small or even non-apparent cut may be enough to induce inflammation and subsequently, tissue necrosis. A common misconception comes from the name “flesh eating bacteria” itself, as the bacteria isn’t actually damaging the tissue, rather the toxins they leave behind. If left untreated, the toxins eventually spread to the rest of the body and can cause death through sepsis. It’s not uncommon for victims to undergo amputations in order to prevent systemic spread of the bacteria.

How do I treat and prevent it?

The most effective preventative measure would be to thoroughly wash your wound. Antibiotics are effective for treatment, but most doctors and victims don’t think twice about a minor cut and begin a regimen soon enough. It is only when the victim experiences excruciating pain from the infection when physicians begin to realize it is flesh eating bacteria, at which point it may be too late. Antibiotics would rid the bacteria from the body, but they do little to eliminate the toxins left behind, which continue to produce devastating effects.

NeutroPhase, a new wound cleanser recently cleared by the FDA, was used by Dr. John Crew and his nurses Randell Varilla and Thomas Allandale Rocas III, when one of his patients, Lori Madsen, fell and scraped her elbow. Dr. Crew overheard the screams of Ms. Madsen and after reviewing her symptoms, decided to use NeutroPhase in combination with negative pressure wound therapy. Ms. Madsen was discharged from the hospital within a few weeks.

 

The wound cleanser is a solution of pure hypochlorous acid, the same compound released during oxidative burst when white blood cells engulf foreign particles as part of the body’s immune response system. The product has recently been approved for treatment of chronic non-healing wounds such as venous, pressure, stasis, and diabetic foot ulcers as well as post-surgical and burn wounds.

Credit link for the image

S.E. Gould About the Author: A biochemist with a love of microbiology, the Lab Rat enjoys exploring, reading about and writing about bacteria. Having finally managed to tear herself away from university, she now works for a small company in Cambridge where she turns data into manageable words and awesome graphs. Follow on Twitter @labratting.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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