Danger in the Flesh

Unlike other skin infections, this disease can progress quickly over a few hours. If you have a fever with a red area on your skin that is numb or growing in size, you should contact your doctor immediately. If you cannot find your doctor, go to the emergency room.

How Do I Prevent Infection?

The best way to prevent flesh-eating disease is careful hand washing and thorough cleaning of any open wounds. If you have an injury with broken skin, keep the area clean and covered after washing and until crusted.

Patients with diabetes, HIV, hepatitis or cancer should inspect their skin daily for cuts and scrapes that might become infected. Flesh-eating disease is rarely contagious to other people, but you should wash your hands thoroughly if you come into contact with someone who has this disease.

Doing this will prevent spreading germs to yourself or others. Flesh-eating disease is very rare, and most people who come into contact with these patients do not become infected.

How Will My Doctor Know?

Doctors diagnose flesh-eating disease by its appearance, rapid progression and overlying numbness. There is no reliable laboratory test to check for this disease, but MRI radiology studies are often diagnostic. Management must start immediately -- there is no time to wait for laboratory tests -- to reduce the risk of death.

Dr. Jennifer Logan is an instructor in the division of infectious disease and international medicine at the University of South Florida. Dr. John Sinnot is a professor at the same division and is director of that division.

How Is It Treated?

A person who develops flesh-eating disease will require surgery to remove the infected tissue. This tissue removal can be very extensive, including removal of skin, fat and even muscle tissue. After the infection is cured, patients often need surgery to graft new skin.

If surgery is not performed quickly, the infection can continue to spread and the patient is more likely to die. Antibiotics are also given through the patient's veins to help kill Strep germs in the bloodstream and decrease the spread to other areas of the body.

Dr. Jennifer Logan is an instructor in the division of infectious disease and international medicine at the University of South Florida. Dr. John Sinnot is a professor at the same division and is director of that division.

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