Flesh-Eating Bacteria — What You Should Know

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Necrotizing fasciitis. It’s making headlines after 24-year-old Aimee Copeland contracted the disease in a zip lining accident.

The Georgia graduate student has already lost a leg to the flesh-eating bacteria and will most likely lose her fingers. Her condition is a rare, but extremely aggressive disease that has a 73 percent mortality rate, according to Medscape Today. Tragedy strikes with the bacteria infects and destroys a layer of tissue under the skin called the fascia.

Dangerous bacteria

In an interview with FOXNews.com, Dr. Michael Lucchesi said varying types of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis. The flesh-eating bacteria typically enters the body through a punctured wound. For Copeland, the creek where she was injured is a prime location where the bacteria typically lives.

“These bacteria are ubiquitous — they’re everywhere,” Lucchesi told FOX News. “But when you have stagnant water, and you have animals defecating in the water, or you have other types of fish and wildlife that might have died in it — it can be teeming with various types of bacteria.”

If the bacteria enters the skin it can start to release harmful toxins. Those toxins then destroy tissue and cut off vital blood supply to the infected areas. Lucchesi said the disease spreads quickly and can be difficult to treat with antibiotics. If identified too late, amputation is used to keep the disease from claiming healthy tissue.

How to avoid the flesh-eating disease

Lucchesi said to avoid contracting necrotizing fasciitis, cuts should be thoroughly cleaned, especially if it’s a puncture like stepping on a nail. Any changes around the skin should be taken seriously. Lucchesi said the disease is not subtle.

““If the skin overlying the area is red, warm and extremely tender, or if someone feels pain surrounding the inoculation, that’s a very bad sign,” he said. “Sometimes if it’s a gas producing bacteria, the skin overlying the area can actually feel like Rice Crispies under the skin – almost crunchy.”

Necrotizing Fasciitis — a rare disease

While the disease can be deadly, it’s rare. Lucchesi says it depends on the bacteria and the host. An individual who is strong and healthy has a better chance against the disease than someone with a pre-existing medical condition.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Disease, it only affects 600 people in the United States each year.

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