Almost nothing is more frightening than the idea of contracting flesh-eating bacteria. The concept of your very flesh being eaten off your bones, and your limbs decaying and turning black, is enough to make anyone uncomfortable. Still, some morbidly curious people may be wondering, what does flesh-eating bacteria do to you? How does it harm you? If you're one of those people, it's time to get excited, because we have some flesh-eating bacteria facts that are sure you make you squirm with delight. Or just maybe just squirm.
What is flesh-eating bacteria? Does it actually "eat" your flesh? Is it really that bad? Rest assured, a flesh-eating bacterial infection (technically called "necrotizing fasciitis") can, and often will, end your life.
It should pretty much go without saying that this article will contain graphic descriptions, and is absolutely not for those with weak stomachs. Still, take this as a final warning, because things are about to get pretty gross, as well as horrifyingly fascinating.
It Causes Your Flesh To Rot Away
Flesh-eating bacteria secrete toxic chemicals that damage your body's soft tissues, causing your flesh to dissolve right off your body. This sounds pretty terrible on its own, but keep in mind that as your soft tissue decays, blood flow to your limbs is restricted and the integrity of those limbs is seriously damaged. This means that your whole limb has the potential to "necrotize." When this happens due to the bacteria, it is called necrotizing fasciitis.
In fact, one cure for flesh-eating bacteria involves completely amputating the damaged limb. Most of the time doctors just remove the infected flesh, but when it gets really bad, that's simply not enough. That's right - even if the bacteria doesn't end your life, it can still take your fingers, toes, or even arms and legs.
It Can Start With Just A Little Scrape
So, how does this nasty bacteria actually get into your system? Surely, you have to ingest a bunch of it, or have a big gaping hole for the bacteria to enter into, right? Sadly, it's far easier than that. Because the bacteria is pretty much everywhere, all it takes is a very small opening in the skin for them to gain access to your body. That's right, a paper cut, a scrape, a blister, or even a really bad sunburn can all compromise the seal of your skin enough to put you at risk. The bacteria then enters your bloodstream and flesh, and, assuming it doesn't meet with much resistance, just makes itself at home. You should notice the first necrotic flesh showing up around the original point of entry.
The Bacteria Isn't "Eating" Your Flesh, Just Dissolving It
The name flesh-eating bacteria is actually a bit of a misnomer, because the bacteria aren't eating you at all. After the bacteria enters your bloodstream, it gets into your muscles and flesh and begins secreting a chemical substance that's toxic to your body. This chemical can build up more and more, until it's strong enough that it doesn't just irritate or harm the flesh around the bacteria. Instead, it begins to kill it, and even dissolve it in a quickly spreading pattern. This causes the appearance of your flesh being "eaten" off your bones, even though that isn't exactly what's happening.
We Come Into Contact With The Bacteria Every Day
You might think, considering how few cases of flesh-eating bacteria there are, that you'd be hard-pressed to find these little guys. Shockingly, that's not the case at all. Bacteria that can cause a flesh-eating infection appear on the street, in nature, at your job, pretty much everywhere! It's enough that scientists say we encounter flesh-eating bacteria pretty much every single day of our lives. This might sound terrifying, but the fact is, most of the time, these bacteria live apart from a human host. What's more, even if you come in contact with them, they'll rarely harm to you, for several reasons we'll talk more about later.