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Flesh-Eating Bacteria

Over the last several years, you've heard stories about a flesh-eating bacteria that can dissolve muscles and skin, leading to amputations and even death. This supposedly new disease may be caused by taking non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofin, aspirin, Motrin and Tolectin when you are infected with a beta strep germ (1). A report in the New Zealand Medical Journal shows that five of seven cases of flesh-eating bacteria occurred in people who took these pain medicines.

When you get an infection, certain white blood cells called macrophages produce a chemical called tumor necrosis factor, which travels to your brain and causes your body to produce prostaglandins that cause fever and shut off tumor necrosis factor. Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs block the production of prostaglandins, causing the white blood cells to keep on producing tumor necrosis factor. This can allow the bacteria to spread through the body, producing toxins which dissolve tissue and even cause shock and death.

There are progressive warning signals that tell you that you could have this type of infection. First, you develop a sore throat or you cut or bruise your skin or stick yourself with a thorn or splinter. Usually the pain of a throat infection or a wound lessens with time. Progressively increasing severe pain is a signal that you have a serious infection. Contact a doctor immediately if you develop severe pain, a fever, a red streak starts to extend toward your heart, or your lymph nodes start to swell and hurt.

The beta strep bacteria do not dissolve flesh. They produce toxins that dissolve flesh, so once you have this condition, antibiotics may get rid of the bacteria, but they do not get rid of the toxins that cause the damage. Infections with beta strep bacteria can be cured readily if you take antibiotics early enough and avoid taking aspirin or any pain medications. Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, died of a beta strep infection because he did not seek treatment early enough.

1) New Zealand Medical Journal March, 1995.

2) Science News October 7, 1995.

3) CO Brantigan, J Senkowsky. Group A beta hemolytic streptococcal necrotizing fascitis. Source Wounds - A Compendium of Clinical Research and Practice 7: 2 (MAR-APR 1995):62-68.

Checked 11/8/12

January 1st, 2015
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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