Pop quiz: what's the difference between necrotizing fasciitis and other nasty skin infections?
Necrotizing fasciitis is gross, dangerous and infamous. Every once in a while, we read about how this insidious disease can render you legless and armless in mere days. We read about how 1 in 4 victims of necrotizing fasciitis don't survive.
Lately, there've been two incidents of necrotizing fasciitis on either side of the Atlantic within days of each other. Panic in the streets: there must be something going on!
Whoa, Nelly. We need to stop this crazy train before it jumps the tracks.
MRSA, spider bite or necrotizing fasciitis?
Image © Kenneth Walker
Necrotizing fasciitis is indeed a horrible disease, but it isn't something that we need to get to the bottom of. There isn't really a necrotizing fasciitis disease. It's more of a condition that simply happens by equal parts bacterial skin infection and bad luck. Most commonly, it's caused by either Group A Streptococcus or Staphylococcus aureus.
- Group A Streptococcus, abbreviated GAS by the CDC -- but since "he's got GAS" means something totally different to me I'll call it strep -- is responsible for those bad sore throats you've probably heard of: strep throat.
- Staphylococcus aureus is the impetus for that wonderful bug called MRSA we all know and love. MRSA and staph are well known for their skin infections. These are commonly mistaken for bug and spider bites.
Necrotizing fasciitis is just another skin infection. Don't get me wrong, it's a bad one. It can kill you if it goes untreated. It spreads fast. It may lead to big chunks of skin, muscle and bone getting lost (sometimes whole limbs). It's bad, but not worth panicking about.
The best bet to beat any skin infection is to stay clean and wash your hands regularly. If you're in the beauty business or healthcare, wear gloves and wash your hands. If you're an educator, wash your hands. If you're a student, wash your hands.
Basically, always wash your hands. When the bug isn't allowed to stay on your skin, it doesn't get a foothold and doesn't spread. If you have a sore on your skin that grows overnight, go see the doctor.
Just remember when you see the next tabloid headline about the "FLESH EATING BACTERIA" that it's the same story you read in the New York Times about MRSA being in pork, just with more capital letters (and a name fit for a horror movie).
Pardon me. The bacon's ready. I need to wash my hands.
- Strep Throat
- Necrotizing Fasciitis
- Impetigo (just another name for those skin infections)
- Urban Legends About Necrotizing Fasciitis
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