Drug-Resistant Flesh-Eating Germs More Common with Superbugs


Necrotizing Fasciitis illustration (trust us, you don't want to see actual photos...)

Sandy Wilson woke up after giving birth to her son to find that she was the victim of a flesh-eating bacteria. Over the course of five years, it ate away her skin, spleen, gall bladder, appendix, part of her stomach and ultimately, all of her intestines. The condition appears out of nowhere and used to be fairly rare, caused by a single type of strep bacteria. But now, drug-resistant superbugs like MRSA can make "flesh-eating" toxins that attack diabetics, obese people, cancer patients and others with weak immune systems...people who make up a growing portion of the American population. According to R&D; Magazine, to stop the spread doctors cut away dead tissue, but much of the time the infection advances even when it seems it was completely removed. Thanks to the popularity of everything from prescription drugs to anti-bacterial hand soaps, our fear of germs is making those that are capable of seriously harming us even stronger.

"In the first 20 years I practiced, I may have seen one case," said Dr. Alan Bisno, a retired University of Miami expert who has lectured other doctors on this. "Within a very few years, everybody in the audience had all seen cases."

Wilson's story is gruesome but ultimately happy -- after 5 years, she is finally able to return home to be with her son and possibly go back to work. The estimated cost of treatment so far is $5 million, paid for with insurance, then Medicaid, Medicare and disability. But for others, the story isn't promising. In 2009, a "flesh-eating superbug" killed a father just four hours after being admitted to a hospital in Britain. The bacteria is being called "Britain's new horror."

Called necrotizing fasciitis, the disease is a "condition of rapidly spreading infection, usually located in fascial planes of connective tissue that results in tissue necrosis (dead and damaged tissue). The disease occurs infrequently, but it can occur in almost any area of the body. Although many cases have been caused by group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (Streptococcus pyogenes), most investigators now agree that many different bacterial genera and species, either alone or together (polymicrobial) can cause this disease. Occasionally, mycotic (fungal) species cause necrotizing fasciitis."

Superbugs have become more common as we've increased our usage of pesticides and anti-bacterial drugs and disinfectants for both ourselves and the animals we raise as food in factory farms. Bacteria rapidly evolve to become resistant to what once would wipe them out. Because several kinds of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis, the possibility of it becoming a more common occurrence is very real.

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