Flesh Eating Bacteria: Causes, Progression & Treatments

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  • 0:35 Necrotizing Fasciitis
  • 2:24 Causes of Necrotizing…
  • 3:39 Symptoms, Signs and Treatment
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss something commonly known as flesh eating bacteria. We'll cover some of the most common bacteria that are involved as well as terms such as fascia, necrosis, and necrotizing fasciitis.

Meat on the Menu

Most everyone who is an omnivore, and certainly a carnivore, enjoys a nice steak every now and then. All sorts of things could be on the menu, from T-bone steak to rib steak. However, what's not enjoyable is when you are on the menu. And no, it's not because Hannibal Lecter is out to get you! It's because nearly invisible, tiny bacteria are eating you from the inside out.

Necrotizing Fasciitis

The condition caused by these bacteria is known as 'necrotizing fasciitis.' This is more commonly called 'flesh-eating disease.' The reason it is called necrotizing fasciitis is relatively simple to explain. 'Fasciitis' comes from the word 'fascia,' a type of fibrous connective tissue in your body. This tissue surrounds things such as the muscles, blood vessels and nerves in your body. You can basically think of the fascia as the thin skin around a sausage you may be enjoying along with your steak.

In any case, the suffix 'itis' in 'fasciitis' implies an inflammatory process is occurring because our immune system is responding to the invasion of bacteria and their toxins with a defense mechanism called inflammation. Hence, we get fasciitis, or the inflammation of the fascia. In addition, our fasciitis is necrotizing because it causes necrosis, or the death of tissues and cells. That's not at all to say that only the fascial planes of your body are damaged; it's more of a generalization. Tissues such as muscle groups that are surrounded by the fascia are affected as well.

Basically, you can imagine that the inflammatory process, which generates a lot of heat in the area of inflammation, is like a fire on a grill. If you put a sausage on the grill, then the skin, or fascia, would begin to cook right away. It won't be long, however, before the rest of the sausage would begin to heat up as well, since the sausage skin is very thin.

Causes of Necrotizing Fasciitis

Regardless, there are many different bacteria that end up causing necrotizing fasciitis. They include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Aeromonas hydrophila
  • Bacteriodes fragilis
  • Streptococcus pyogenes

Since there are so many flesh-eating bacteria to recall, you can use the acronym 'SCABS' to help you remember everything. If a person is going to survive this condition, they will have a lot of scabs on their body as a result of the healing process that will be taking place. Therefore, the flesh-eating bacteria cause SCABS, or Staph, Clostridium, Aeromonas, Bacteriodes and Strep.

Another thing you need to know is that the term 'flesh-eating bacteria' is generally a misnomer the media came up with to generate ratings. In reality, the bacteria do not actually eat your flesh. Instead, they release powerful toxins, known as 'exotoxins,' that either directly or indirectly destroy the infected and surrounding tissue.

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