After every major disaster that involves flooding, the media lights up with scattered reports of victims dying from “flesh-eating bacteria,” which is reported to be swimming in the raised flood waters. After Hurricane Harvey, The New York Times reported on one such death, a 31-year-old man who succumbed shortly after being admitted to the hospital with an infected wound on his arm.

To its credit, the Times cited the disease as ‘rare.’ This flesh-eating bacteria is more accurately labeled necrotizing fasciitis. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, necrotizing fasciitis is a fast-spreading, bacterial skin infection that targets and kills soft tissue within the body. While the disease is rare, several species of bacterium are known to carry it. These include Klebsiella, Clostridium, E. coli and group A Streptococcus. The latter is reported to be the most common. However, even the most abundant form of necrotizing fasciitis is very rare and can be spotted by watching for these symptoms:

Signs of necrotizing fasciitis

The National Organization for Rare Disorders stated that necrotizing fasciitis is not often diagnosed early. Its first symptoms can be easily mistaken for the flu or another virus. The victim experiences a high fever, chills, body aches and sore throat, among other general discomforts. Near this time, a red area usually develops somewhere on the skin, which can be painful to the touch.

This red spot typically signifies the point of infection. In the case of necrotizing fasciitis, this area will spread rapidly, covering a relatively large distance within hours. At this point, the body temperature will likely grow worse, getting radically high or drastically low. The victim will also feel dehydrated. The infection area may swell, but it will likely grow hot. During this time, the pain will become more intense.

It is vital to have transported the patient to a hospital by this time. Necrotizing fasciitis is fast-acting, and as the stages progress, the chances of survival dwindle. It is one of the most extreme examples of wound infection known to medical science.

A widely applicable wound care lesson

The good news, as Aberdeen News pointed out, is that this disease is incredibly rare. Even once contracted by one person, it is not easily spread. However, necrotizing fasciitis is a grim reminder of the importance of monitoring wound sites. All wound infections are potentially serious, especially if the patient has a heart disease or diabetes.

When monitoring wound sites, patients should check for signs of infection, such as swelling, the onset of a fever or draining fluid. While most infections merely slow healing and create these complications, others can lead to more serious conditions that impair quality of life. While flesh-eating bacteria remains largely the stuff of nightmares, wound infection awareness is a helpful first step in patient self-care.

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in delivering specialized wound care supplies to patients, delivering to both homes and long-term care facilities.