What Is Flesh-Eating Disease?

Although it’s rare, two cases of flesh-eating bacteria have been in the news lately after a student and a new mom were recently diagnosed with the infection. Called necrotizing fasciitis, flesh-eating bacteria can enter an open wound (regardless of its size) and begin to destroy skin, fat and other tissue, and it spreads fast. It’s incredibly dangerous, too — it can lead to gangrene, organ failure and roughly one in four patients die from the infection.

South Carolina mom Lana Kuykendall hadn’t been out of the hospital for a full day after giving birth to twins on May 7 when she noticed a painful lesion on her leg. Within the six hours it took to get Kuykendall to Greenville Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and into the operating room the infection had spread to her whole leg. The infected tissue was removed, but Kuykendall has undergone six more surgeries, her brother told CNN. Though the infection has not spread to her internal organs, she remains heavily sedated and has a breathing tube.

Aimee Copeland, a 24-year-old graduate student at the University of West Georgia, suffered more severe complications. Two weeks after cutting her leg in a zip-lining accident, the stitched-up gash began hurting more and antibiotics were failing to treat the infection, which had yet to be diagnosed as necrotizing fasciitis. Copeland was taken to the emergency room and within days most of her left leg was amputated. Since then her other foot and both hands were amputated, according to Facebook posts from her father, Andy Copeland.

What are the symptoms of flesh-eating bacteria? How is it treated? Are there any precautions you can take to prevent getting it? Click here for the answers you need know.

Originally published May 2012 on iVillage


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