Rare flesh-eating bacteria that can kill in 48 hours spreads in Japan: All you need to know

Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS) is an aggressive illness that can be fatal within 48 hours of infection.

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Rare flesh-eating bacteria that can kill in 48 hours spreads in Japan: All you need to know
Group A streptococci (GAS) are classified as gram-positive cocci that cause a range of diseases and exclusively infects human beings. (Image: CDC)

A rare 'flesh-eating bacteria' that can kill people within 48 hours is spreading in Japan after the country relaxed Covid-era restrictions, Bloomberg reported on Saturday.

Within 48 hours of infection, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), an acute disease, can be fatal.

As of June 2, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, which has been monitoring STSS cases since 1999, recorded as many as 977 cases in Japan. This number is greater than the record 941 cases reported in the previous year.

Children with 'strep throat,' or swelling and sore throat caused by Group A Streptococcus (GAS), usually experience swelling and fever, but certain strains of the bacteria can cause symptoms to appear quickly, such as limb pain and swelling, fever, and low blood pressure, which can lead to necrosis, breathing difficulties, organ failure, and even death, according to Bloomberg.

“Most of the deaths happen within 48 hours,” said Ken Kikuchi, a professor in infectious diseases at Tokyo Women’s Medical University. "As soon as a patient notices swelling in the foot in the morning, it can expand to the knee by noon, and they can die within 48 hours,” he said.

People over 50 are more prone to the disease.

According to Kikuchi, 2,500 cases could occur in Japan this year at the present pace of infections, with a "terrifying" 30% death rate.

Kikuchi advised everyone to treat any open wounds and practise good hand hygiene. The patient's intestines may harbour GAS, he noted, and this could contaminate hands through excrement.

Bloomberg reports that streptococcal toxic shock syndrome outbreaks have recently occurred in a number of other nations in addition to Japan. The World Health Organisation received reports of an upsurge in invasive group A streptococcus (iGAS) illness cases, including STSS, from at least five European countries in late 2022. As per the WHO, the increase in instances coincided with the lifting of Covid restrictions.

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