Deadly flesh-eating bacteria spreads in Japan

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Japan is facing a health crisis with the rise of flesh-eating bacteria in the country.

The severe bacterial disease known as streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), has spread throughout the country following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

By June 2 this year, there were 977 reported cases, surpassing 2023’s total of 941, according to Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The STSS is caused by Group A Streptococcus (GAS), which usually causes minor infections like strep throat in children. However, certain strains can rapidly lead to severe symptoms such as limb pain and swelling, high fever, and dangerously low blood pressure. In severe cases, this can progress to tissue death, breathing difficulties, organ failure, and even death. People over 50 are particularly at risk of this disease.

Professor Ken Kikuchi from Tokyo Women’s Medical University warned that if current infection rates continue, Japan could see up to 2,500 cases this year, with a mortality rate as high as 30%.

"Most of the deaths happen within 48 hours,” Kikuchi said. "As soon as a patient notices swelling in (their) foot in the morning, it can expand to the knee by noon, and they can die within 48 hours,” he was quoted by The Japan Times.

Similar outbreaks have been reported in several European countries in late 2022, following the lessening of COVID-19 measures. The World Health Organization (WHO) noted an increase in cases of the invasive Group A streptococcus (iGAS) disease, which includes STSS.

Kikuchi stressed the importance of maintaining hand hygiene and promptly treating open wounds to prevent infection. He also pointed out that patients can carry GAS in their intestines, which may contaminate their hands through fecal matter.

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