TOKYO, Jan 22 (News On Japan) - The number of patients infected with Invasive Group A Streptococcus (iGAS), commonly referred to as 'flesh-eating bacteria', has reached an all-time high in Japan since investigations began into this rare infection.
The "Good! Morning" show on TV Asahi conducted an interview with a man who contracted the infection, leading to the amputation of his leg, shedding light on the mysteries surrounding this peculiar illness.
'Flesh-Eating Bacteria' Infection - A 30% Mortality Rate
Takashi Mori (36): "I was immediately hospitalized, and despite it being nighttime, I was rushed to the intensive care unit. At that moment, I was prepared for the worst."
The infection that afflicted this man is known as the 'flesh-eating bacteria.' It is said to have a mortality rate as high as 30% when contracted.
Professor Ken Kikuchi, Department of Infectious Diseases, Tokyo Women's Medical University Hospital: "It leads to life-threatening organ damage, affecting organs like the liver and kidneys."
The infected man shared his harrowing experience.
Cause - "Group A Streptococcus Pyogenes" - Symptoms
Following a surge in reported cases since the start of investigations, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has instructed local authorities to analyze patients' specimens.
The infection is believed to be caused by "Invasive Group A Streptococcus (iGAS)," and commonly referred to as 'flesh-eating bacteria.' Last year, there were 941 confirmed cases nationwide, the highest since records began in 1999. Even in the early months of this year, 31 individuals across the country have already developed severe cases, with Tokyo having the highest count at 7.
Group A Streptococcus typically causes mild conditions like throat infections, particularly common in children.
The 'flesh-eating bacteria,' with its alarming 30% mortality rate, presents difficulties in diagnosing its early symptoms, as multiple interviews with survivors revealed.
Abnormal Progression - Professor Urges Prompt Treatment
The defining characteristic of the 'flesh-eating bacteria' is the challenge in diagnosing early symptoms.
A woman in her thirties residing in Miyagi Prefecture experienced intense shoulder pain three years ago. She sought medical attention, but initial diagnoses did not point to the severe invasive infection. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, causing concern among nurses.
The infected woman: "Even at the first hospital I visited, they couldn't determine the exact illness. They were uncertain. The following day, my blood pressure dropped rapidly, and the nurses started to panic."
Initially, this woman was not diagnosed with the "severe invasive" form of the illness. Another distinct feature is the rapid progression of severe symptoms.
Professor Kikuchi: "Within 48 hours of onset, one-third of patients die. For example, if someone notices a minor swelling in their toes or fingers in the morning, by noon, it could have spread up to their knees. It's that fast. Whether a patient can be saved or not, receiving the right diagnosis and treatment at the hospital as quickly as possible is crucial."
Rapid Progression from a Minor Wound - High Fever Included
Takashi Mori contracted the 'flesh-eating bacteria' in 2015 when he was 27 years old.
Takashi Mori: "That day, I played basketball all day, and in the evening, it started to hurt. While walking, I felt a slight pain. There was some redness, but that was it."
The route of infection remains unclear, with only a small wound on his right leg being a possible clue.
Four days after experiencing leg pain, his right leg was red and swollen, with some parts turning slightly purple. He also had a fever of nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Even after visiting a local doctor on the day following the onset of symptoms, no blood tests were conducted.
Takashi Mori: "They prescribed antibiotics and fever reducers. They said if the pain got worse, they could administer painkillers."
Man Who Lost His Leg: "I Was Prepared for Death"
A week later, his condition worsened dramatically. Takashi Mori lost consciousness at home and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.
Takashi Mori: "They diagnosed it as 'sepsis' due to the 'flesh-eating bacteria.' I had very little consciousness when I collapsed, and my body temperature had dropped to the 34-degree Celsius (93.2 degrees Fahrenheit) range."
Although he survived after receiving treatment in the hospital's intensive care unit, his leg's condition did not improve. He was informed by the doctors that emergency surgery was necessary.
Takashi Mori: "They told me, 'We won't know if your leg will be saved or if it needs to be amputated until we finish.' So, I agreed to the surgery."
After the surgery, Takashi Mori woke up to discover that he had lost his right leg.
Currently, he uses a prosthetic leg. It took him about six months of observation and rehabilitation before he could reintegrate into society.
Takashi Mori: "At the hospital where I was admitted, I heard that I was the first patient to show improvement in the condition caused by this infection. Looking back, even if I lost a leg, I think it's okay as long as I'm alive."
Although it is believed that the infection is transmitted through droplets or wounds, much remains unknown about why it progresses to such life-threatening conditions.
Possible Entry through Minor Foot Injuries - How to Protect Yourself
Diagnosing the 'flesh-eating bacteria' can be challenging. According to Professor Kikuchi, who has seen over dozens of patients, some tendencies can be observed in affected areas.
Professor Kikuchi: "The lower limbs are overwhelmingly affected. People might not even notice minor injuries on their feet, which can become easy entry points for bacteria, especially when walking barefoot. That's often how the bacteria enter."
To protect oneself from the 'flesh-eating bacteria,' especially among the elderly, it's crucial to keep the feet clean.
Professor Kikuchi: "For the elderly, even a slight mismatch in shoes can lead to blisters, which can become a significant risk. Keeping the feet clean is quite important."