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What Is STSS The “Flesh-Eating” Bacterial Infection & How To Avoid Getting It?

What Is STSS The “Flesh-Eating” Bacterial Infection & How To Avoid Getting It?

Japan has recorded a high number of Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome (STSS) cases in 2024 but luckily, there are no reports of it in Malaysia so far.

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On 18 June, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) reported Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome (STSS) cases in Japan surpassed 1,000 in 2024.

As of 9 June, the preliminary number of cases in Japan since the start of the year reached 1,019, a significant increase compared to previous years. As of 2 June 2024, Japan recorded 977 cases. In 2023, Japan recorded 941 STSS cases.

Over in the United States, 145 STSS cases have been reported in 2021.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said there have not been any STSS reports in Malaysia yet but the ministry will seek input from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the situation.

Dr Dzulkefly shared that no cases have reached the Malaysian National Crisis Preparedness and Response Center (CPRC) or the infection department.

What is STSS?

STSS is also known as the “flesh-eating bacterial infection.” The sudden-onset disease is primarily caused by “Group A Streptococcus” (GAS). This means STSS can still be caused by other strep strains.

It’s the same bacteria that causes strep throat infection but it’s not the same as STSS. It’s classified as STSS when the bacteria cause an “invasive” infection deep under the skin.

Group A Streptococcus (GAS). Image: US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The bacteria target the skin, soft tissues, and respiratory tract and cause infections in these areas. The bacteria can also enter the bloodstream in severe cases.

The bacteria spread through nasal and throat mucosa droplets, and through any contact with wounds.

What is the cause? Despite knowing how it spreads, medical experts don’t know how the bacteria get into the body for nearly half of people who get STSS.

What are the STSS symptoms?

Early symptoms of infections are commonly mistaken for the common cold due to the rapid progression of the disease. The early symptoms include fever and chills, muscle aches, nausea, and vomiting.

According to the CDC, it usually takes about 24 to 48 hours for low blood pressure (hypotension) to develop after the onset of the first symptoms.

Some symptoms include high fever with delirium and rapidly spreading redness around a wound.

In more serious cases, the infected individual may experience organ failure, tachycardia (faster than normal heart rate), and tachypnea (rapid breathing).

People with diabetes or alcohol-use disorder are at a higher risk of getting STSS.

STSS is a rare but serious bacterial infection, with 3 out of 10 patients likely dying.

How to protect yourself from getting STSS?

There is no vaccine for STSS but there are ways to protect ourselves and others.

The most important thing to do is to focus on preventing from getting infected. We can do this by limiting our exposure to the bacteria and using preventative antibiotics when appropriate.

To limit our exposure to the bacteria, here are some daily habits to practice:

  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Wash hands often
  • Wash glasses, utensils, and plates after someone who’s sick uses them
  • Care for fungal infections
  • Clean and care for wounds, especially open wounds
  • Avoid going into hot tubs, swimming pools, or other bodies of water if you have an open wound or skin infection.

Meanwhile, preventative antibiotics are given to treat symptoms such as rheumatic fever.

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