Headline-making bacteria actually quite rare

Three people have made news over the last few weeks after contracting a very fast-moving, flesh-eating bacteria. There have been two reported cases in Georgia and one in Greenville.

Often times, the bacteria starts out like a red spot on the skin, but doctors say it can quickly grow into something much worse.

With these recent cases, many are wondering exactly what it is, how you get it, and if amputation the only option.

The bacteria that can cause this disease is all around us, but it's actually fairly rare.

"It comes from an existing infection whether it's just a skin infection or cut or so, but you usually get pretty sick pretty fast," Dr. Michael Green said. "It's big and red and swollen."

It takes only hours for an infection to turn into necrotizing fasciitis.

"Necrotizing means tissue destroying and Fasciitis is the plane. The fascia is where it travels -- between the skin and the muscle or between the muscles," Green said.

Many different types of bacteria can cause the disease.

"Everybody deals with cuts and infections and wounds all the time. By and far and away this is relatively rare, so it's not something that always happens," Green said.

In 25 years of practicing medicine, Green says he's treated only four cases.

"The case we're treating now, we don't have a source of infection," Green said. "We just know that she came in with an infected hand and in renal failure -- her kidneys were already shutting down."

The bacteria releases toxins into the tissue and everything it touches, it kills, so the dead, infected areas have to be removed. Green's most recent patient is recovering from a mid-forearm amputation.

"It kind of leaves a wake of destruction, it'll leave gangrene or dead tissue and you have to clean it out every time you go through," Green said.

A new mother of twins, a grad student and a landscaper all got their infections differently. Aimee Copeland, the Georgia grad student has had both feet, a leg, her hands and part of her abdomen removed.

"You can decrease the mortality/the death rate if you can wash it out, amputate or whatever you have to do within 24 hours. After that, up to 3 days could be devastating," Green said.

Green says it tends to affect those with compromised immune systems. His latest patient has lupus. Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions make it hard for your body to fight off infection.

"They can start off as just a skin infection or even cellulitis or a small abscess," Green said "It can all of a sudden take off and grow for some unknown reason."

Green says the best way to prevent the disease is to treat and clean the wound thoroughly and follow up with your doctor if it becomes infected.

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