Japan’s Flesh Eating Bacteria Outbreak: Everything You Need To Know

by | Jun 21, 2024 | Daily News, Environmental News

Home » Environmental News » Japan’s Flesh Eating Bacteria Outbreak: Everything You Need To Know

A lethal outbreak of Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS) in Japan has raised worries, with cases approaching 1,000 and exceeding last year’s total. The sickness, caused by a ‘flesh-eating bacteria,’ has a 30% mortality rate and can kill within 48 hours. The symptoms include fever, muscle pains, and organ failure. Good hygiene and timely treatment are also preventative strategies. Similar outbreaks have been recorded across Europe as well. Vigilance and early treatment are essential in combating this severe condition.

What is the Flesh-eating Bacterial Illness in Japan?

The condition is known clinically as streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS). According to NSW Health, the infection is caused by group A bacteria that enter the circulation or deep tissue. This type of flesh-eating bacteria often causes mild infections in children, such as strep throat, but select strains can swiftly progress to invasive group A streptococcal illness (iGAS). If this sounds familiar, you may have read about the spike in iGAS cases in Australia last year. STSS is seen as an iGAS complication that can “develop very quickly into a life-threatening emergency”.

Japan's Flesh Eating Bacteria Outbreak: Everything You Need To Know

How Quickly is STSS Spreading Across Japan?

Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases stated in March that rates of the disease spread were rising. As of June 2, there were around 977 documented cases of STSS in Japan. This represents a significant increase over the previous era when Japan had 941 cases during 2023.

CNN reports that this year, the highest number of instances have been seen in Japan since the current recording technique was implemented. It’s unclear why cases are increasing, but Japanese health officials think a spike in respiratory illnesses is linked to weaker COVID-19 controls.

Ken Kikuchi, a Tokyo Women’s Medical University professor, told NHK that people’s immune systems were weakened during the lockdown. “We can boost immunity if we are constantly exposed to flesh-eating bacteria, but that mechanism was absent during the coronavirus pandemic,” the researcher stated. “So, more people are now susceptible to infection, which may be one reason for the sharp rise in cases“, she added.

It is also worth mentioning that the trend is expected to increase in Japan. There have also been cases documented in Europe.

Have There Been Any Flesh-eating Bacteria Breakouts in Other Countries?

Other countries have had comparable outbreaks. In December 2022, five European nations reported an upsurge in invasive group A streptococcus (iGAS) to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with children under ten particularly affected.

The CDC also looked at an apparent spike in sick people. In March, Japanese officials warned of an increase in STSS cases, claiming in a risk assessment that the number of cases caused by iGAS “has increased since July 2023, especially among those under 50 years of age.

According to the CDC, older adults with open wounds are more likely to get STSS, particularly those who have recently undergone surgery. However, the actual reason for this year’s increase in instances remains unknown. “Experts don’t know how the flesh-eating bacteria got into the body of nearly half of the people who get STSS,” according to the CDC website.

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How is Flesh-eating Bacteria Spreading?

It is tough to say how there has been such an increase in the bacterial spread. While patients with open wounds are more likely to get STSS, it’s unclear how the flesh-eating bacteria enter the bodies of nearly half of those afflicted.

The NSW Health Department warns the following groups are more susceptible:

  • Older people and children
  • Individuals with diabetes and alcohol use disorders.
  • People receiving nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • People with immunodeficiency

What are the Symptoms of STSS?

The early symptoms of the infection include:

  • Fever and chills.
  • Muscles ache
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Around 24 to 48 hours after the first symptoms appear, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Low blood pressure.
  • Organ failure.
  • A higher-than-normal heart rate.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Death of Body Tissue (“flesh-eating bacteria” means destroying body tissue, commonly known as necrosis.)

How is it Treated?

Patients with STSS require hospitalization. According to Healthdirect, Australia’s official public health information service, the condition can be treated with antibiotics. Further surgery may also be necessary to remove the source of infection.

Will it Spread to other Countries?

Although the current outbreak is in Japan, there is a risk of worldwide spread owing to international travel. Maintaining proper hygiene, such as regular hand washing and treating skin injuries as soon as possible, is critical for preventing STSS. Early warning signals, such as sudden intense pain, a high fever, and redness at the incision site, should demand quick medical care. Public health measures, such as monitoring and responding quickly to new cases, are required
to contain the spread of this severe infection. The Japanese health officials continuously monitor the situation and work to prevent the spread of STSS. Public awareness initiatives educate people on the symptoms and severity of STSS, emphasizing the importance of seeking medical attention as soon as symptoms
emerge. Hospitals are on alert to quickly identify and treat STSS cases, and improved cleanliness procedures are being advocated.

Are There Any Travel Warnings?

At this point, you do not need to cancel any trip plans. The Australian government’s travel information website, Smartraveller, does not include STSS as a health risk for visitors to Japan. The World Health Organisation has not suggested travel restrictions for nations suffering outbreaks. Even while cases are increasing, it is rare for someone with STSS to transfer the infection to others. However, the CDC cautions that “less severe group A strep infections can turn into STSS, and these bacteria are contagious“. So, if it’s not an important trip, avoiding travelling to outbreak-prone countries is advised.

How Can I Stay Safe?

No vaccination is currently available; thus, the best approach to avoid illness is to practise proper hygiene.

This includes:

  • Washing hands frequently and applying hand sanitizer
  • Wash your body and hair frequently with soap and clean, running water.
  • Keep any wounds clean and wrapped until they heal.
  • If you have an open wound, avoid water sources such as hot tubs, swimming pools, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

What Measures is Japan Taking?

The Japanese health officials continuously monitor the situation and work to prevent the spread of STSS. Public awareness initiatives educate people on the symptoms and severity of STSS, emphasizing the importance of seeking medical attention as soon as symptoms emerge. Hospitals are on alert to quickly identify and treat STSS cases, and improved cleanliness procedures are being advocated.

Other countries can benefit from Japan’s comprehensive strategy in improving their preparedness and response methods. Educating healthcare practitioners and the general population about early symptoms and the importance of obtaining medical attention as soon as possible is critical.

In conclusion, Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), a flesh-eating bacteria infection, is a severe sickness caused by the bacterium group A streptococcus. Following a rise in STSS cases in Japan, which resulted in 77 deaths between January and March 2024, health officials are on high alert. STSS is reported to have a rapid course of sickness, with death occurring within 48 hours.

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Author

  • Sarah Tancredi

    Sarah Tancredi is an experienced journalist and news reporter specializing in environmental and climate crisis issues. With a deep passion for the planet and a commitment to raising awareness about pressing environmental challenges, Sarah has dedicated her career to informing the public and promoting sustainable solutions. She strives to inspire individuals, communities, and policymakers to take action to safeguard our planet for future generations.

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