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Quick Dose: How Common Is Flesh Eating Bacteria?

You’re more likely to be injured in a car accident than develop necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria). Only 700 to 1,100 cases occur every year in the United States and only one in four people die.

The term flesh-eating refers to the toxins produced by a bacterial infection that can destroy your muscles, skin and fatty tissues. The bacteria is a member of the Group A Streptococci, the same group of bacteria that causes mild sore throats and skin infections. Most healthy people with strong immune systems can quickly fight off the infection, and scientists don’t know for sure why certain bacteria can be fatal.

Contrary to popular belief and what we see depicted in the movies, flesh eating bacteria is not highly contagious and rarely spreads from person to person. However, it develops very quickly and can be difficult to diagnose.

Proper hygiene and wound care are key.

Symptoms may include red or purple areas of swelling and soreness, along with an intense level of pain that is out of proportion to the wound. If this occurs, seek medical help from your nearest emergency room.

Luis A. Manrique, MD, Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, Infectious Diseases