At least two patients are being treated for the serious bacterial infection, necrotizing fasciitis, or the “flesh eating bacteria”, at the Rochester General Hospital, according to local media reports.

In a press release yesterday, hospital officials write:

Group-A Streptococcus (GAS)/CDC
Group-A Streptococcus (GAS)/CDC

We have treated patients at Rochester General Hospital for necrotizing fasciitis, sometimes referred to as flesh eating bacteria. Out of respect for the patients and their families, we cannot address discuss any specific cases.

Rochester General follows the most stringent and up-to-date protection and isolation precaution measures possible in order to protect our patients, employees, and the community.  These measures are very stringent and follow public health and CDC guidelines for infection protection and isolation.

The patients who were admitted to Rochester General did not become ill as a result of an infection they contracted at the hospital.  We are partnering with state and local health department to determine if they are in fact linked to each other or to other possible cases in the community.

The “flesh eating bacteria” is actually a relatively rare bacterial infection technically known as necrotizing fasciitis.

The most common organism that causes this devastating disease is Streptococcus pyogenes (group A strep), however other bacteria have been implicated (Clostridia, Vibrio, and in the case of Aimee Copeland, Aeromonas.).

It’s called “flesh eating bacteria” because of how it destroys the skin and soft tissue.

This is the same bacteria that cause relatively mild infections like strep throat and impetigo. However, rarely a strain of the bacteria produce toxins and enzymes that make the infection spread quickly through the flesh.

Though rare, it is very serious with a fatality rate of approximately 30%.

So how does someone get infected? Usually the bacteria enter the body through an opening in the skin, quite often a very minor opening, like a paper cut.

It can also happen following a major trauma or surgery, and in some cases there appears to be no identifiable point of entry.

The bacteria is transmitted through respiratory droplets or contact with the secretions of from someone who has group A strep and this gets on a person’s hands or directly into a wound.

According to WebMD, the symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis start with pain from an injury that gets better over 24 to 36 hours and then suddenly gets worse. Often the pain is much worse than would be expected from the size of the wound or injury.

Other symptoms may include fever, chills, and nausea and vomiting or diarrhea. The skin usually becomes red, swollen, and hot to the touch. If the infection is deep in the tissue, these signs of inflammation may not develop right away.

The symptoms often start suddenly (over a few hours or a day), and the infection may spread rapidly and can quickly become life threatening. Serious illness and shock can develop in addition to tissue damage. Necrotizing fasciitis can lead to organ failure and, sometimes, death.

The infection is diagnosed based on symptoms and how fast the infection progresses. It can also be cultured to identify the offending bacteria.

Typically, by the time a person is seen by their doctor they are very sick. This is a medical emergency that requires hospital admittance, high dose antibiotics and supportive care for organ failure and shock.

This link to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation has “preventive” measure recommendations.