LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - So how common is this flesh eating bacteria?
Dr. Sharmilla Dissanaike is a Burn Surgeon at UMC.
Coincidentally, she is also an expert on the disease, called Necrotizing Fasciitis, having written textbook chapters on that.
She says perhaps since the Timothy J. Harnar Burn Center in Lubbock is a regional center, they see at least 100 cases here every year. That breaks down to about 5 or 6 a month in the winter and 10 or 15 in the summer months.
So how do you know if you have the disease? Here's how she describes the first clue that the flesh eating bacteria might have slipped into an open wound or even a little cut. "Usually it's redness, and it doesn't have to be dramatic. Usually it's a light pink like any other infection. But the key is the infection is spreading under the skin so there's more pain than you'd expect. If it's on your hand, your whole arm might hurt. Yet, on the surface, it may not look that bad. However, sometimes you'll get purplish discoloration which is where the skin is actually dying. That's a really bad sign. You should get help immediately."
Dr Dissanaike says often people come in with an infection and don't have any idea what triggered it.
She says a feeling that you have bubbles or gas under the skin is another clue that it could be the flesh eating bacteria multiplying.
The less healthy you are, the greater your risk.
She says instead of a regular small infection that you can treat, a person with diabetes or kidney or liver disease is more at risk of a necrotizing infection.
A minor version of the disease can be treated at most hospitals with surgery and antibiotics. But, she says, this disease can get out of control quickly. That's why the burn center is a common option for people whose infection has progressed and there is concern about reconstruction and a difficult healing process.
Also, the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center is a research center for Necrotizing fasciitis. Dr. Dissanaike is regarded as a national expert, having written textbook chapters on the disease.
I asked her if good hygiene is a good prescription.
Isn't that almost always the answer you get when trying to prevent infection?
Not this time.
She says good hygiene is a nice thing to have but it's not going to prevent the flesh eating bacteria.
Prevention in this case has more to do with good health and a strong immune system.
Learn more from Dr. Dissanaike in the attached interview, including the risk for kids and whether families should be concerned about passing this disease from one person to another.