Learn more about necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria, in Dubai from the experts at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital
7 July 2020| Last updated on 14 April 2021
When it comes to the flesh-eating disease, acting fast is key.
While it is a rare and non-contagious disease, flesh-eating bacteria is still a cause for concern as it leads to a very serious illness that requires urgent and expert care in a hospital.
A recent case was managed at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital which emphasizes the need for prompt presentation to a health care facility when it comes to this disease.
UAE expat Karim, a 44 year old computing expert, suffered what he thought to be a minor football injury whilst playing with his friends a week before. Over the next few days he noticed a couple of blisters on his foot and some ankle pain. A week later he presented to Mediclinic Welcare Hospital's Emergency Department with severe pain, fever and redness of his right foot and lower leg.
Fortunately for Karim, the experienced Emergency team recognised the potential severity of his symptoms and admitted him immediately for investigations, including MRI and urgent treatment with intravenous antibiotics.
Karim was immediately assessed by a senior consultant physician who observed that his physical condition was deteriorating and recognised the need for urgent surgery to remove the rapidly spreading infection from his lower leg.
A multi-disciplinary team was called upon to continue his life-saving treatment, consisting of a general surgeon, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, intensive care specialists, anaesthetists, specialist nurses and all their supporting teams.
With close co-operation with the Microbiology team it was confirmed that Karim was suffering from necrotising fasciitis, otherwise known as "flesh eating disease".
What is necrotising fasciitis?
This is a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects the tissue beneath the skin and the tissue surrounding muscles and organs (fascia).
The bacteria do not actually eat flesh, but they release toxins that damage nearby tissue and hence, from a relatively minor injury such as a small cut, the condition can get worse very quickly and may even be life threatening if not recognised and treated early
Necrotising fasciitis can progress very quickly and lead to serious problems such as blood poisoning (sepsis) and organ failure. Even with treatment it is estimated that 1 or 2 in every 5 cases are fatal.
What causes flesh-eating disease?
The disease is caused by several different types of bacteria that normally live in the gut, throat and, in some people, on the skin where they do not usually cause any problems.
However, in rare cases, these bacteria can cause necrotising fasciitis if they get into the deep tissue either through:
- The bloodstream
- A cut or scratch
- An insect bite
- Surgical wound
In Karim’s case the bacteria must have entered his tissues through the minor football injury.
How to treat flesh-eating bacteria
Once the condition is suspected, the main treatment is surgery to remove the infected tissue, so Karim had several operations over the next few days and weeks to ensure that all the infected tissue was removed.
Sometimes amputation of an affected limb is necessary, but luckily for Karim the disease was recognised and treated early by Mediclinic Welcare Hospital's specialised and experienced team, so the need for amputation was avoided.
Karim’s surgery was combined with the use of several different types of intravenous antibiotics. Often further supportive treatment is required to control blood pressure, fluid levels and organ functions such as the kidneys and lungs.
Patients are often admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and stay in hospital for several weeks.
After Karim’s condition had stabilised and the infection had been eliminated he had skin grafts taken from his thigh and transferred to his lower leg to cover the deep tissues that had been exposed by the "flesh eating bacteria".
After so much surgery and many weeks in a hospital bed he needed physiotherapy to help him walk again, but finally, after four months, he is living his life normally again with his family, walking and driving, although he has decided to hang up his football boots!