It turns out that all it takes is a tiny cut or an insect but for a deadly ‘flesh eating bug’ to leave your life hanging in the balance.
Scientists say if left untreated, it can claim limbs, develop into sepsis and threaten your life, so it’s vital to be aware of the tell-tale signs.
The diseases, called necrotising fasciitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects the tissue beneath the skin; and surrounding muscles and organs.
It’s dubbed a “flesh-eating bug” but the bacteria doesn’t actually eat the flesh, it releases toxins that damage the tissues, causing it to rot away.
The bacteria can spread in a matter of hours, even from a minor injury, and is life-threatening if not treated early enough.
There are several types of bacteria that can cause necrotising fasciitis. These include streptococcus A, klebsiella, clostridium, escherichia coli and staphylococcus aureus.
And these bacteria can live in gut, throat, or on the skin of some people and don’t usually cause any serious problems.
However, very rarely, they can cause necrotising fasciitis if they get into deep tissue – either through the bloodstream, or an injury or wound.
One of the earliest signs of having a ‘flesh-eating bug’ is pain beyond normal.
Here are the key signs to watch out for:
- A small but painful cut or scratch on the skin
- Intense pain that out of proportion to any damage on your skin
- A high temperature or fever
- Flu-like symptoms
When the infection progresses, there is:
- Swelling and redness in the area – the swelling may be firm to touch
- diarrhoea and vomiting
- dark blotches on the skin that turn into fluid-filled blisters
- It can also cause dizziness, weakness and confusion as the infection takes hold of the body.
Necrotising fasciitis is considered a medical emergency and needs urgent attention from a doctor – it’s a matter of life and death.
Once hospitalised, doctors should take blood tests and scans to determine the underlying cause of the infection.
This can help them formulate a treatment plan, but in most cases a diagnosis of necrotising fasciitis can only be made after an operation to examine the infected flesh.
If the infection progresses it can very quickly lead to sepsis and organ failure.
Doctors need to operate to cut all the infected tissue away and patients have to be put on a course of antibiotics to help their body fight the infection; and other medications to manage blood pressure and organ function.