(Bangor, Maine) – Bacteria and viruses that cause disease are all around us. Many of them do not cause harm, and the ones that do are usually successfully defeated by our immune system. On rare occasions, serious infections can be acquired in the home, community, or hospital. In the last couple of days, there has been a heightened interest in the local media about healthcare associated infections and specifically, necrotizing soft tissue infections—known also as necrotizing fasciitis.
Healthcare associated infections are infections that occur during the course of receiving healthcare treatment for other conditions. Many healthcare associated infections are related to devices necessary to provide care. Healthcare employs many types of invasive devices and procedures to treat patients and help them recover. Healthcare associated infections may also occur following procedures such as surgery. Infections following normal vaginal deliveries are extremely rare but do occur. Many infections are associated with bacteria that live normally in and on the human body. Less commonly, bacteria are introduced by external sources such as the environment. It is often difficult to be completely certain about the origin of a specific infection. Healthcare providers strive to reduce the chances of microbes infecting our patients from any of these sources.
The same infection prevention techniques are used in healthcare settings regardless of the type of microbe. Meticulous hand hygiene, sterile equipment and instruments, gloves and gowns, pre and post-operative antibiotic administration, and preoperative skin preparation are all methods of reducing infections. The early removal of certain tubes, lines, and devices placed inside of the body has also been shown to reduce the risk of infections in patients.
Necrotizing fasciitis, referred to in the media as "flesh eating bacteria," is caused by a bacteria or group of bacteria that infect a wound, produce toxins that destroy soft tissue, and in a sudden and fast moving process, can result in loss of significant portions of the body and even death. These types of infections are most often community acquired. Treatment includes surgical removal of necrotic tissue, antibiotics, and blood pressure support to stabilize the patient while the antibiotics work on the infection.
EMMC investigates every significant adverse event, including some unanticipated deaths, bringing together caregivers and other experts to discuss the case, asking questions, and determining if any changes should be made to our protocols. Both the family and our caregivers are affected whenever a patient dies unexpectedly. That's why we work tirelessly to provide a safe environment for our patients, including appropriately managing the things within our control, and trying to mitigate the things that are harder for us to predict or affect.