Man Infected With Rare, Deadly Flesh-Eating Bacteria That Ravaged His Face

A man in his 30s contracted a "flesh-eating" bacteria that ravaged his right eyelid and the surrounding tissue.

The individual visited an ophthalmology department in India after experiencing gradual swelling of the right eyelid and nearby skin, an article published in the journal BMJ Case Reports shows.

The patient had experienced a single episode of fever 10 days previously, but he otherwise had no history of medical trauma, surgery, sinus disease or systemic disease.

A black crust had formed over the eyelids and some of the surrounding areas, indicating the presence of dead tissue. Doctors subsequently diagnosed the man with a form of necrotizing fasciitis.

An artist's illustration of bacteria
Stock image: Artist's illustration of bacteria. A man in India contracted a “flesh-eating” bacteria that results in the destruction of body tissue. iStock

Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare and potentially fatal infection caused by several different types of bacteria. They move rapidly through the body, attacking the skin and soft tissues below it. It can be deadly if not treated promptly.

The name of the disease comes from the Ancient Greek word nékrōsis meaning "death." It refers to the fact that these microbes cause the dying of soft tissues—or "soft tissue melting," as the authors of the BMJ study describe it—and the overlying skin.

Soft tissues connect, support and envelope other structures in the body. They include fat, blood vessels, nerves and tendons, among others.

Necrotizing fasciitis primarily affects the extremities and the torso. Less frequently, it is seen in the head and neck, as was the case with the individual from India.

A man diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis
The photos of the eyelid of the man who was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis. A) Black crust formation on the eyelid; (B) The man's eye following surgery; (C,D) The man's eye at six months of follow-up. BMJ Case Reports 2023

It is rare for necrotizing fasciitis to affect the area around the eyelids because of the excellent blood supply in this part of the body.

Soon after being diagnosed, the Indian man swiftly underwent surgery to treat the damaged skin and was administered antibiotics.

The patient's condition improved following the surgery, according to the case report. Doctors cared for the wound for three days, removing any new necrotic skin that appeared.

The patient was then discharged from hospital and given a course of oral antibiotics. After six months, the wound on his eyelid had been replaced by a mature scar. Doctors discussed the possibility with him that he might require a skin graft.

"I was deeply worried about the severity of my condition," the patient said in the case report. "I was afraid of losing my eyesight as well. I'm relieved that I have been cured of the disease."

Diagnosing necrotizing fasciitis can be challenging because the clinical signs and symptoms are often subtle at first, the authors of the case study said.

In the United States, necrotizing fasciitis is rare. It occurs in only about 0.4 people per 100,000 every year, according to a study published in the journal Skeletal Radiology.