Portions of a person’s flesh dying while they are still alive, destroying their body and health. Sometimes taking entire limbs. Sometimes claiming their lives.
Cases of so-called flesh-eating bacteria, formally known as necrotizing fasciitis, are on the rise. Let’s take a closer look at flesh-eating bacteria and examine why cases of this infection may be increasing in number.
Much More Than a Sore Throat
A species of bacteria found in water called Vibrio vulnificus can cause necrotizing fasciitis in a person who eats or even handles seafood containing the bacteria. However, bacteria known as group A streptococcus — commonly associated with strep throat — are most often the cause of infection. You’re unlikely to contract flesh-eating disease from another person, though, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the strep bacteria behind necrotizing fasciitis typically enter the body through the skin via:
- Cuts, scrapes or burns
- Insect bites
- Puncture wounds (often related to syringe use)
- Surgical wounds
One of the first signs of infection is the injured area becoming red and swollen in appearance and warm to the touch. Other local and systemic symptoms can follow, including digestive system problems, sepsis and organ failure. Age, a compromised immune system and the presence of other diseases factor into who may be at risk for infection. The disease can spread quickly, so getting quick attention, including treatment with antibiotics, is critical.
What Flesh-Eating Bacteria Does
Flesh-eating bacteria isn’t entirely accurate as a name for necrotizing fasciitis. “Flesh-killing bacteria” would be closer to the truth. The bacteria “infects the fascia, or connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels and nerves,” by releasing toxins that eventually cause those tissues to die. The bloodstream carries the bacteria through the body, infecting additional soft tissue. Dead tissue, sometimes even whole limbs, must be removed from the body to assist in the infected patient’s recovery.
Where and Why Cases Are on the Rise
While flesh-eating bacteria causes about 100 deaths annually, the number of cases is rising. This is partly due to bacteria thriving in waters where they previously had been scarce, such as Delaware Bay. The climate-change-driven rise in water temperatures has also increased the number of bacteria in the water. Vibrio vulnificus, in particular, tends to proliferate as the water temperature rises and is most common in saltwater or brackish water, which is a mix of freshwater and saltwater.
Understanding the Microbes Behind Diseases
Microbes including bacteria, viruses and fungi and their role in infectious diseases are a major focus of our online Master of Science in Microbiology & Cell Science with a concentration in Medical Microbiology and Biochemistry. In as little as one year, this program helps prepare you to pursue important roles in science and medicine, including:
- Bioinformatics scientist
- Medical scientist
We offer this graduate degree program entirely online, which enables you to get the same high-quality education in a more flexible format while learning the same curriculum from the same acclaimed faculty who teach it on campus. We invite all prospective students who have already completed a science-oriented bachelor’s degree at an accredited college or university and who meet the rest of the program’s requirements to apply. No GRE is required for admission!
What You’ll Learn
Key topics in our Master of Science in Microbiology & Cell Science program include:
- Infectious diseases
- DNA and RNA viruses
- Metabolic regulation
What You May Not Understand About Bacteria
While flesh-eating bacteria enter the body, there are an estimated 39 trillion bacterial cells already residing inside each of us. Alongside viruses, fungi and other microorganisms, bacteria make up the human microbiome, a critical ecosystem that regulates our health and wellbeing. Our MS in microbiology and cell science explores the full range of microorganisms, and you can gain a deeper understanding of the importance of the human microbiome to our bodies by supplementing your master’s degree with our 12-credit Microbiome and Health Online Certificate program.
What You Can Earn
In May 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that individuals who have a master’s degree generally earn about 20% more than individuals whose higher education culminated in a bachelor’s degree alone. In addition, the BLS data showed a direct correlation between educational achievement and likelihood of being employed. By completing your Master of Science in Microbiology & Cell Science, you can position yourself to enjoy “the lowest unemployment rates and highest earnings” in the country.
A Degree Program Built Around You
The entirely online, asynchronous format of our Master of Science in Microbiology & Cell Science program allows you to gain a graduate degree without ever visiting campus for class sessions or lab hours. You can complete your coursework on your schedule from practically any location, while giving your personal and professional responsibilities the attention they need.
Whether you’re continuing your studies directly after finishing your undergraduate degree or you’re returning to graduate school after spending time in the workforce, our convenient program will help you achieve your education and career goals. If you want to add an environmentally focused biology credential to your resume, you can enjoy all of the same online learning advantages with our 13-credit Graduate Certificate in Environmental Microbiology. More details are here.
Set yourself up for a healthy career with an online Master of Science in Microbiology & Cell Science with a concentration in Medical Microbiology and Biochemistry from the University of Florida.