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!
Have you ever scraped your knee on the playground? Perhaps you were playing a lively game of tag. You may have slipped on some wet pavement and down you went!
You may have needed a quick trip to the school nurse’s office. They would have washed the wound and put on a bandage. Good as new! After all, scrapes and bruises are quite common when you’re a kid. What’s the worst that could happen?
In 2013, a scraped knee turned into a dangerous illness for one boy in Idaho. It could’ve ended in removal of his leg or even death. Luckily, he got better with the help of surgery and medicines.
That young boy faced a rare disease. It has been making headlines more often, recently. The scientific name for this condition is necrotizing fasciitis.
“Flesh-eating bacteria” is the more widely-known name for this illness. But it’s a bit of a misnomer. The bacteria don’t actually “eat” flesh. Instead, they release toxins that destroy tissue. This results in widespread, rapid tissue death. It can make it seem like flesh is being eaten by the invaders.
Once inside the body, the bacteria can destroy skin, fat, and other tissues. This happens quickly, sometimes spreading by an inch every hour. It can lead to sepsis, organ failure, and even death. As many as a third of the people who become infected don’t survive.
We are fortunate there are only about 1,000 cases of flesh-eating bacteria reported every year. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe many cases may go unreported, however.
Several different types of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis. One of the most common is group A Streptococcus. It can often be found in our bodies. Occasionally, it causes strep throat and scarlet fever.
Experts have found that some of these strains become infected by viruses. They are called “supercharged“ strains and can cause necrotizing fasciitis.
How do people become infected by flesh-eating bacteria? It usually enters the body through punctured skin, such as cuts or insect bites. The first symptom of an infection is often severe pain. This is caused by the deep tissue damage taking place below the skin.
Treatment usually takes two forms. Doctors use antibiotics to attack the infection. They also perform surgery to expose the affected areas to oxygen. This can help kill the bacteria. Surgery also allows doctors to remove dead and damaged tissues.
Will every scrape or cut lead to a serious health condition? Of course not! But it’s important to clean and treat wounds. While flesh-eating bacteria is a rare condition, any cut is at-risk for other infections.
Standards: NGSS.LS1.A, NGSS.LS2.A, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1