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“Flesh Eating Bacteria” Linked to NSAIDs

Posted by feww on September 19, 2009

Global Health Alert  Bulletin # 30 – New Zealand cases of “flesh-eating” disease have surged by 300 percent

Flesh Eating Bug is linked to Nurofen, and similar non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medicine including Voltaren

Caution has also been issued on using ibuprofen in chickenpox!

Preoperative view (NF Patient)

NF NZ Med-Js
Areas of blistering and skin necrosis became evident 12 hours after patient was admitted to hospital with lower abdominal pain, swelling of the labia and erythema across the lower suprapubic area. Photo: The New Zealand Medical Journal.

Post debridement defect

NF NZ Med-J 02 sl
Post debridement (removal of infected tissues) photo. Image source: The New Zealand Medical Journal.

What is Necrotizing Fasciitis, NF  [commonly know as flesh-eating disease]

Necrotizing fasciitis (NF), commonly called flesh-eating disease or flesh-eating bacteria, is an infection of the deeper layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues.

  • Type I infection is a polymicrobial infection.
  • Type II infection is  a monomicrobial infection.

Many types of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis

  • Group A streptococcus (Streptococcus pyogenes)
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Vibrio vulnificus,
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Bacteroides fragilis

Historically, Group A streptococcus has been responsible for  most cases of Type II infections. However, since about 1999, another serious form of monomicrobial necrotizing fasciitis,  the methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacterium has struck with increasing frequency.

What the bugs do!

“Flesh-eating bacteria” [they don’t actually eat flesh]  destroy skin and muscle tissue by releasing toxins (virulence factors), which include streptococcal pyogenic exotoxins.


  • Surgical procedures
  • IV infusions and IM injections
  • Minor insect bites
  • Superficial wounds
  • Local ischemia and hypoxia especially in patients with diabetes and cancer (and other systemic illnesses)
  • Up to 40 percent of the patients in various series were alcoholics
  • The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs), such as Nurofen, Vultaren and Ibuprofen
  • Complications arising from varicella infections

NF Symptoms

  • Infection begins locally, at a site of trauma.
  • Infection may occur as the result of surgery, minor scratches, or even non-apparent.
  • Signs of inflammation may not be apparent if the bacteria are deep within the tissue, especially in the early stages,
  • Intense pain that may seem excessive given the external appearance of the skin.
  • As the disease progresses, tissue becomes swollen, often within hours.
  • Diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Signs of inflammation such as redness and swollen or hot skin show very quickly, unless infection is deep.
  • Skin color may progress to violet and blisters may form, with subsequent death of the subcutaneous tissues.
  • Fever and appearance of severe illness.
  • The infection will rapidly progress, and will eventually lead to death, unless treated.
  • Mortality rates are as high as 73 percent when left untreated.


  • Aggressive surgical debridement (removal of infected tissue), which  is always necessary to keep the disease  from spreading, and is usually the only treatment available.
  • A combination of intravenous antibiotics including penicillin, vancomycin and clindamycin.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen treatment, when available, as  adjunctive therapy,
  • Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT, also known as vacuum assisted closure).
  • Amputation of the affected organ(s) .
  • Skin grafting to cover open wounds


MRSA [Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] was discovered in the United Kingdom in 1961, but it is now a global concern. MRSA (also known as CA-MRSA, community-acquired MRSA, and HA-MRSA, hospital-acquired MRSA) is a variation of a common bacterium, which has evolved as a “superbug” with the ability to resist treatment with antibiotics, including methicillin and penicillin.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MRSA is responsible for 94,000 serious infections and nearly 19,000 deaths each year in the United States. [In comparison, the AIDS virus killed about 12,500 Americans  in 2005. ]


MRSA is a strain of Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) bacteria. S. aureus is a common type of bacteria that normally live on the skin and sometimes in the nasal passages of healthy people. MRSA refers to S. aureus strains that do not respond to some of the antibiotics used to treat staph infections.

The bacteria can cause infection when they enter the body through a cut, sore, catheter, or breathing tube. The infection can be minor and local (for example, a pimple), or more serious (involving the heart, lung, blood, or bone).

Serious staph infections are more common in people with weak immune systems. This includes patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities and those receiving kidney dialysis.

MRSA infections are grouped into two types:

  • Healthcare-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA) infections occur in people who are or have recently been in a hospital or other health-care facility. Those who have been hospitalized or had surgery within the past year are at increased risk. MRSA bacteria are responsible for a large percentage of hospital-acquired staph infections.
  • Community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) infections occur in otherwise healthy people who have not recently been in the hospital. The infections have occurred among athletes who share equipment or personal items (such as towels or razors) and children in daycare facilities. Members of the military and those who get tattoos are also at risk. The number of CA-MRSA cases is increasing.

MRSA Symptoms

Staph skin infections cause a red, swollen, and painful area on the skin. Other symptoms may include:

  • Drainage of pus or other fluids from the site
  • Fever
  • Skin abscess
  • Warmth around the infected area

Symptoms of a more serious staph infection may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • General ill feeling (malaise)
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash
  • Shortness of breath

Related Links:

The above information was sourced from the CDC, MedLine Plus and other sources.

6 Responses to ““Flesh Eating Bacteria” Linked to NSAIDs”

  1. te2ataria said

    Rare streptococcal infection hits in Australia
    Australian man Darren Harris loses both legs and an arm after sudden infection

    He has also lost his left arm under the elbow and two fingers on his right hand due to the infection, and is now awaiting heart surgery to fix a leaking valve.

  2. gsn said

    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thank you for fantastic info I used to be on the lookout for this information for my mission.

  3. feww said

    Sent by te2ataria

    flesh-eating bug strikes again

    MidCentral District Health Board confirmed a patient had been treated for necrotising fasciitis, though few details were available.

    Figures released by the board late last year showed that since 1990, 19 cases had been recorded in the MidCentral District Health Board area. Only two cases were reported in the six years from 1990 to 1996, but between 2000 and 2006 that figure had increased to 14.

    Incidents of necrotising fasciitis rose from fewer than 10 cases a year in New Zealand in 1990 to more than 70 cases a year in 2006. There were 812 cases of the disease between 1990 and 2006; of those 148 people died, giving a 21 per cent fatality rate.

    Prof Baker said the rise in necrotising fasciitis was part of a worrying increase in serious infectious diseases in New Zealand. © Fairfax NZ News

  4. te2ataria said

    Flesh-eating disease killing more New Zealanders

    NZ Newswire
    Flesh-eating disease killing more Kiwis
    NZ Newswire September 27, 2011, 10:47 am

    More New Zealanders are dying from a rare flesh-eating disease, but public health specialists are at a loss to explain why.

    A University of Otago study published this week shows a concerning jump in cases of so-called necrotising fasciitis from 10 infections in 1990 up to 70 cases a year in 2006.

    More than 20 per cent of the 812 Kiwis infected died.

    Public health specialist Associate Professor Michael Baker says the results, the first-ever assessment of the killer skin infection, were “extremely concerning”.

    While still relatively rare, the disease, in which bacteria destroy tissues under the skin, was obviously being spread more easily, he said.

    Infection could start with a seemingly minor skin wound, he warned.

    “The pain is caused by a very rapid spread of the infection into deep soft tissue and is not always obvious from first inspection of the skin,” Prof Baker said.

    “Rapid treatment is absolutely vital to save lives.”

    The results come as rates of another deadly infection meningitis continue to climb, with the rare C strain of meningococcal claiming three lives in Northland since July.

    It is part of a worrying increase in serious infectious diseases nationwide, with other research showing hospitalisations for kids with skin infections have doubled in the past two decades.

    But the latest research published in the international Journal of Infection raises more questions than it answers.

    It showed Maori and Pacific people are most at risk, but there is no indication why.

    Experts are still mystified as to why it’s spreading at all, hypothesising that the bug may have changed or that people are becoming more vulnerable as risk factors like obesity, diabetes, poverty and overcrowding continue to rise.
    “This is most likely but it’s very hard to know,” Prof Baker told NZN.

  5. […] “Flesh Eating Bacteria” Linked to NSAIDs […]

  6. […] “Flesh Eating Bacteria” Linked to NSAIDs […]

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