What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria) And How Can You Protect Yourself While Traveling?

16 October 2018 |

Traveling in a foreign country without health insurance coverage is a significant risk. Medical bills can cost thousands of dollars for the uninsured. You must prepare for the unexpected maladies that may ruin your holiday. One of the more misunderstood infections that can happen is necrotizing fasciitis or flesh-eating bacteria.

Necrotizing Fasciitis

Flesh-Eating Bacteria

A severe infection of the skin, Necrotizing fasciitis destroys tissue in your skin, muscles, and subcutaneous tissue. Commonly recognized as flesh-eating bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis is part of the infections within the group A Streptococcus. Although this bacterial skin infection is rare in healthy people, it is possible to get the infection from a minor cut. It is essential to see a healthcare provider immediately if you experience the symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis. One in four people who contract necrotizing fasciitis die from it. Your risk for contracting the disease is higher if:

  • You have a weak immune system
  • Have chronic health problems
  • Have cuts in your skin
  • You recently had chickenpox
  • You use steroids

Causes

Necrotizing fasciitis is a product of group A Streptococcus bacteria. This bacteria is well-known for causing strep throat. Other types of bacteria, including staphylococcus and others, have also been known to cause the disorder. It is not unusual to never know where the infection begins.  Bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis enters the body following surgery or injury. There are other possible routes of entry including:

  • Minor cuts
  • Insect bits
  • Abrasions

Practically anyone is susceptible to necrotizing fasciitis. An underlying illness that deteriorates the immune system may also increase the risk of necrotizing fasciitis. Studies suggest there may also be a link between the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) during varicella infections.

Symptoms

The symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis begin within hours of an injury and include intense pain and tenderness over the infected area. The symptoms include the following either alone or in combination with each other:

  • A steadily increasing pain in the field of a cut, abrasion, or skin opening.
  • The pain is more intense than what a minor cut would typically involve.
  • Redness and warmth around the wound.
  • Flu-like symptoms including diarrhea, nausea, fever, dizziness, weakness, and general malaise.

As the infection continues, more symptoms will appear around three to four days later including swelling, violet-colored marks, and discoloration of the wound. If left untreated, critical symptoms including blood pressure drop, toxic shock, and unconsciousness will appear.

Diagnosis

Necrotizing fasciitis is rare and difficult to diagnose. Early on, the disease presents as common cellulitis. A proper diagnosis is difficult because there is no lab test or imaging that can conclusively rule out necrotizing fasciitis. The diagnosis is a clinical one with validation obtained with surgical exploration. It is imperative that early consultation with a surgeon for definitive diagnosis and possible surgical debridement is part of the treatment plan. Lab tests can suggest but not confirm necrotizing fasciitis.

Treatment

A quick diagnosis is essential for treatment. Intravenous (IV) antibiotics and surgical intervention to remove dead tissue are crucial to the treatment of necrotizing fasciitis. Antibiotics frequently are not able to penetrate infected tissue, making surgical removal of dead tissue the primary treatment for the disease. The particular medicine depends on what bacteria is involved. Though controversial for the treatment of necrotizing fasciitis, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and IV immunoglobulin are a consideration for treatment. The treatment of necrotizing fasciitis may also include the following methods:

  • IV therapy
  • Surgery to remove dead tissue
  • Medications to raise blood pressure
  • Amputation of affected limbs
  • Cardiac monitoring
  • Blood transfusions

Prevention

Although necrotizing fasciitis is rare, it is essential to take steps for the prevention of necrotizing fasciitis. Prevention may include:

  • Wash your hands multiple times per day to prevent infection.
  • Keep cuts, burns, and scrapes, or bites on the body clean.
  • If you have indications of infection such as pain, redness, swelling, or fever, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
  • Avoid spending time in hot tubs and swimming pools with an open
  • Avoid lakes, rivers, and beaches during closures for high bacterial levels, sewage spills, or harmful algae blooms.

Traveling?

If you are traveling abroad and contract necrotizing fasciitis, please remember that visitors insurance will cover treatment. A visitors insurance plan is a temporary plan to provide medical coverage for emergency and non-emergency care. It is a great way to protect yourself while traveling abroad. Typically, after you meet your deductible, a comprehensive visitor insurance plan will pay a set percentage level up to a certain amount, then 100% up to the chosen policy maximum. Depending on your coverage type, a plan may include coverage for expenses associated with doctor visits, surgical treatments, emergency medical evacuation, and accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D).

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