Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Cam from Hoover, AL. Cam Wonders, “Can a virus infect a bacteria?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Cam!
A quick trip to the nurse's office to wash the wound and apply a bandage was probably all the treatment you needed. After all, scrapes and bruises are quite common when you're a kid. What's the worst that could happen?
For one boy in Idaho, a scraped knee on the playground turned into a dangerous illness that could've ended in either amputation of his leg or even death. Fortunately, he recovered with the help of surgery and medicines.
That young boy faced and conquered a rare disease that has been making headlines more often recently: flesh-eating bacteria. Scientifically, this life-threatening condition goes by another name: necrotizing fasciitis.
Instead, they release toxins that liquefy tissue. This results in widespread, rapid tissue death that can seem like flesh is being eaten by the bacteria that cause the necrotizing fasciitis infection.
Once infected, the bacteria can destroy skin, fat, and internal tissues rapidly, sometimes spreading as quickly as an inch every hour. This can lead to sepsis, organ failure, and even death in as many as a third of the people who become infected.
Fortunately, there are only about 1,000 cases of necrotizing fasciitis reported every year. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention believe this estimate of cases might be on the low side, however.
Several different types of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis. In fact, one of the most common is group A Streptococcus, which is plentiful, can often be found in our bodies, and occasionally causes the illnesses known as strep throat and scarlet fever.
Scientists have found that the strains of group A Streptococcus bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis are "supercharged" strains that have also been infected by two different viruses that make them more likely to cause disease.
These dangerous bacteria usually get in through punctured skin, such as cuts or insect bites. The first symptom of a serious infection is often significant pain that results from the deep tissue damage occurring below the skin.
Treatment usually takes two forms: (1) medicine in the form of antibiotics to attack the infection; and (2) surgery to expose the affected areas to oxygen. The bacteria at issue are anaerobic, which means exposing them to oxygen can help to kill them. Surgery allows doctors to remove dead and damaged tissues while exposing other areas to oxygen to fight the bacteria.