By Vanessa Papas: Not all bugs are created equally – especially not a flesh eating bug. In fact, countless people across the globe have lost their lives to a frightening bacteria known as Necrotizing fasciitis – that spreads quickly through the tissue surrounding muscles. Just recently a 12-year-old American boy narrowly escaped with his life after he contracted the bacteria and his body went into shock and organ failure. The little boy, known as Mason, had to undergo four surgeries to drain fluids from his body, and cut infected tissue out of his leg. He was fitted with a feeding tube and was still in hospital at the time of going to press.
“I just thought it was the flu, I mean, all the kids get the flu,” said Mason’s aunty, Paula Nealey. “I didn’t think anything honestly.”
Another two cases of the mysterious flesh-eating bacteria have also been diagnosed. An Australian father is lucky to be alive after he picked up the deadly flesh-eating bacteria after scratching his leg at a swimming pool in Fiji, while a 17-year-old teenager who visited Ecuador caught the bug while holidaying, and was left with a huge gaping hole in the back of his hand.
“The mechanism of transmission of this organism is not clear, despite extensive research, but may be related to contact with soil or water or insects,” Tropical Public Health Services Cairns director Dr Richard Gair said. “While research is ongoing into how the infection is transmitted, people are advised to avoid contact with soil or water where possible and to avoid mosquito bites by covering the body with clothing and using insect repellent.”
Gair continues to say that the disease is closely related to tuberculosis and leprosy, and is treated with antibiotics and surgery where necessary. Without a clear indication of how it spreads, authorities have not been able to eradicate it. What researchers do know is that under a microscope, it looks almost like a computer mouse – a curved rod with a squiggly tail protruding from one end.
It thrives in warm, brackish waters, where it incubates and multiplies. It can enter through an open wound, as it did with Mason, or through the consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish. While it works its way through the body, it can evade the immune system and offer few clues to its presence, other than perhaps a few benign-looking symptoms such as redness and swelling on the skin.