Each year, we hear stories about new (and old) cases of flesh-eating bacteria, but what exactly is this invasive infection and how is it contracted? Let’s flesh it out.
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Flesh-eating bacteria is something straight out of a horror film—think ‘Cabin Fever’ (1, 2 and 3). But the flesh-eating disease, also known as a necrotizing infection, is very real and though it is quite rare, cases do occur around the globe every year.
In this SICK, we sit down with Dr. Isaac Chiu, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Immunology, to find out more about the highly invasive infection.
There are a few ways you can get the bacteria that causes a necrotizing infection: an insect bite, an open wound, or coming into contact with brackish water. But one of the main types of bacteria that cause this flesh-eating disease is from the same family as strep throat.
600 million people a year get strep throat, and in rare cases, that same pathogen can cause necrotizing fasciitis, or the cell death of the body’s soft tissue.
So how does the bacteria become so aggressive and dangerous causing this invasive type of soft tissue infection?
Find out the answer and more in this SICK.
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For ‘Flesh-Eating’ Bacteria, Your Agonizing Pain Is Their Pleasure
They injected mice with S. pyogenes, as well as another compound: botulinum neurotoxin A, a protein used to smooth facial wrinkles and treat muscle spasms. Botulinum toxin — also known as Botox — works by blocking nerve signals. In the infected mice, this prevented the bacteria from gaining the upper hand, regardless of whether the mice received the nerve-blocking agent before or after they were exposed to S. pyogenes.
What to know about flesh-eating bacteria infections
Flesh-eating bacteria infections may look similar to other diseases in the early stages, which can make diagnosis difficult. Here’s how to spot it before it’s too late.
Necrotizing Fasciitis: All You Need to Know
There are many types of bacteria that can cause the “flesh-eating disease” called necrotizing fasciitis. Public health experts believe group A Streptococcus (group A strep) are the most common cause of necrotizing fasciitis. This web page only focuses on necrotizing fasciitis caused by group A strep bacteria.
SICK is a new series that looks at how diseases actually work inside our body. We’ll be visiting medical centers and talking to top researchers and doctors to uncover the mysteries of viruses, bacteria, fungi and our own immune system. Come back every Tuesday for a new episode and let us know in the comments which diseases you think we should cover next.
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