Florida man gets infected with flesh eating bacteria after being bitten by cousin

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published August 16, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • A Florida man contracted flesh-eating bacteria from a human bite.

  • This bacteria is rare; most people will not contract it from human bites or other scenarios.

  • While rare, the bacteria can be deadly. Prompt treatment and surgery can be required.

If your patients aren't already aware that biting another person is a bad idea, you should alert them of this new report.

A Florida man received emergency surgery to remove a flesh-eating bacteria after seeking medical attention for a wound inflicted by his cousin, who bit him on the leg at a family gathering.[][]

The quarter-sized bite reportedly left the man with severe pain, redness, and swelling – which did not go away after a tetanus shot and antibiotics.

Surgeons who operated on the area discovered “rotting flesh” and removed 70% of the tissue from the man’s knee to stop the spread of the bacteria. Despite seeking the tetanus shot immediately after the incident, the man sought emergency attention three days later. According to doctors, had he waited longer than that, he could have faced more life-threatening risks.

The bacteria, known as necrotizing fasciitis, is a rare kind of flesh-eating bacteria that can spread quickly in the body, posing risks of sepsis, shock, organ failure, irreversible scarring, and even fatality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[]

Necrotizing fasciitis is most commonly contracted (though all instances are rare) through cuts and scrapes, burns, insect bites, puncture wounds, and surgical wounds, according to the CDC. Typically, an under-the-skin opening (such as the aforementioned cuts or bites) is necessary to facilitate necrotizing fasciitis taking stake in the body, according to Cleveland Clinic.[]

While occurrences are unlikely, the CDC says that when they happen, serious outcomes are common.

Over the last five years, one in five people who contracted necrotizing fasciitis died from the infection – even with treatment, according to the CDC. One in three people who contracted both necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal shock syndrome died from the infections.[]

Doctors operating on the man this summer acted in line with CDC recommendations for treating necrotizing fasciitis, which involves diagnosis, antibiotics, and surgery.

How risky are human bites

Necrotizing fasciitis is rare enough as it is, and getting the infection from a human bite is even more uncommon. According to reports of the incident, for the man to have contracted the bacteria from his cousin, the cousin may have had an extremely dirty mouth.[][] 

That’s not to say human bites can spread more commonly occurring bacteria, however.

Alex Ebner, CEO of ACE Medical Company, a company that provides surgical materials, says that the human mouth is a “unique microbiome,” such that “even with good oral hygiene and a healthy diet, most people actually carry a vast amount of bacteria in their mouths.” 

Not all these bacteria are harmful, and many ensure a healthy balance in the mouth and protect against infections. However, it’s hard to know what could be lurking in someone else’s mouth. Especially given the recent news, Ebner says, “the bottom line is if you’re bitten by another person–even if you and they are healthy and strong–get the bite checked out.” 

In addition to visiting a doctor, Kezia Joy, MD, medical content advisor for Welzo, encourages practicing “proper wound care” and sanitizing for any type of bite, including one by a human, to prevent infections and complications.

Practitioners can play it safe by encouraging patients to seek attention for bites. And, for some extra points, you can advise them not to bite each other. 

What this means for you

It is rare but possible to contract necrotizing fasciitis – an at-times deadly flesh-eating bacteria – from a human bite. Getting bitten by a human can likewise put people at risk for other infections. Encourage patients to seek medical attention for all kinds of bites.

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