Cultivation theory is the idea that television has the power to shape public perception. Part of cultivation theory is “mean world syndrome,” which is the phenomenon in which the mass media (specifically violence in TV) causes people to think the world is more dangerous than it actually is.
Despite three recent cases in Georgia, local leaders in the health care industry said that so-called “flesh-eating bacteria” is rare and possibly sensationalized by some media.
“It’s like the summer of sharks,” Logan Boss, spokesman for the Northwest Georgia Public Health District, said.
Boss was referencing the summer of 2001, when shark attacks made major headlines, creating fear and frenzy.
But the media’s exaggerated coverage rarely included the fact that there were 13 fewer attacks worldwide that year than the year before, CNN reported. There were also fewer human deaths from shark attacks that year.
Dr. Donald Barker, with Chattanooga medical group practice University Surgical Associates and trauma director at Erlanger, said that the term “flesh-eating bacteria” is not one medical professionals use.
“We generally don’t refer to things as ‘flesh-eating bacteria,'” he said.
The official medical term is “necrotizing soft tissue infection,” Barker said.
According to Alexian Brothers Health System and Boss, it can also be called necrotizing fasciitis.
Many different types of bacteria can cause the infection, and the severity can depend on the type of bacteria that caused the infection, officials said.
Necrotizing soft tissue infection typically develops when bacteria enters the body through a wound. The bacteria grows and releases harmful toxins that kill tissue and affect the blood flow to the wound, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
It becomes difficult for white blood cells and antibiotics to stave off the infection.
Barker and Boss said the main public health message they want to send is to exercise caution and make sure to wash all wounds with soap and water.
Boss said not to use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. He also noted that infections don’t get reported to his organization unless it is caused by strep A bacteria.
Members of the public should also take notice for symptoms of infection, such as redness around the wound, bruising and pain.
For more symptoms, click here.
One person affected by this type of infection is too many, Boss said. But he said that the hype isn’t equal to the severity of the situation.
And it is “fairly unusual” for a young, healthy person to get such a bad infection that a limb must be amputated, Barker said.
He might see one or two severe cases a year, but some years he doesn’t see any.
And he said that if the situation were as extreme as one might assume after watching the news coverage in the 24-hour news cycle, “we would all be falling over dead.”