Rare Flesh-Eating Bacteria Surge in Japan Causing Most deaths occur within 48 hours: Cases Soar Post-COVID Restrictions

The current trend in Japan suggests the country could see 2,500 cases this year.

Japan is witnessing a concerning rise in cases of a deadly flesh-eating bacteria, Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. The National Institute of Infectious Diseases reports 977 cases by June 2 this year, surpassing last year's record of 941 cases. The institute has been monitoring the disease since 1999.

STSS, caused by Group A Streptococcus (GAS), usually results in mild infections like sore throats in children. However, certain strains can lead to severe and rapid symptoms. These include limb pain and swelling, fever, low blood pressure, tissue necrosis, breathing difficulties, organ failure, and potentially death. Individuals over 50 are particularly vulnerable.

"Most deaths occur within 48 hours," said Ken Kikuchi, an infectious disease professor at Tokyo Women's Medical University. "Swelling can spread from the foot to the knee in just a few hours, and death can follow within 48 hours."

Rare flash eating bacteria

Other countries have also reported recent outbreaks. In late 2022, at least five European nations alerted the World Health Organization to an increase in invasive group A streptococcus (iGAS) cases, which includes STSS. These rises also followed the end of COVID-19 restrictions.

The current trend in Japan suggests the country could see 2,500 cases this year. The disease has a "terrifying" mortality rate of 30%, Kikuchi warned. He stressed the importance of hand hygiene and proper treatment of open wounds. Kikuchi noted that patients might carry GAS in their intestines, which can transfer to hands through feces.

Authorities and health professionals are urging the public to maintain rigorous hygiene practices. Washing hands thoroughly and covering any cuts or abrasions are essential preventive measures. Early detection and prompt medical treatment are crucial in reducing the fatality rate of this aggressive infection.

The surge in STSS cases highlights the need for continued vigilance in post-pandemic public health strategies. The easing of COVID-19 restrictions appears to have created conditions for other infectious diseases to spread more readily. Health systems must adapt to these changing dynamics to protect vulnerable populations from emerging threats.