Local researchers make major discovery that could lead to new treatments for flesh-eating bacteria


John Atkins was in a kayak after Harvey’s flood waters turned streets in his Missouri City neighborhood into small lakes.

“I was out touring the neighborhood making sure everyone was ok they had food they had medication,” Atkins said.

Atkins says his mosquito bitten hand was in the flood water for only a few seconds.

It was long enough for him to be diagnosed with a flesh eating bacteria.

A diagnosis he says he didn’t initially comprehend due to septic shock.

“When I did finally get to the point that I realized I was concerned more about my limb then I was the loss of life which was also a major concern,” said Atkins.

Atkins spent 10 days in the hospital.

Half of that time was in intensive care.

How prominent is the flesh eating bacteria?

“Worldwide I think we have 660 thousand cases per year,” said Muthiah Kumaraswami, Ph.D an infectious diseases researcher at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

There’s also more than 60 thousand deaths a year due to flesh eating bacteria.

The infection that can lead to flesh eating bacteria is a common one.

It’s the same infection that causes strep throat.

Researchers have known for more than 100 years that Group A strep uses a toxin that’s crucial for strep to develop into a much more serious condition like flesh eating bacteria.

What researchers didn’t know is what signals the timely production of those toxins.

Now Houston Methodist researchers say they know that the bacteria communicate with each other to coordinate production of the toxin.

“Finally we figured out how this works so now that we’ve unlocked the mystery we can probably move on to the next phase which is like targeting it’s pathway,” Kumaraswami said.

John Atkins also made a discovery.

Contaminated flood water can lead to flesh eating bacteria.

“The exposure to the water was only two to three seconds,” he said.

The findings by Houston Methodist Researchers could lead to new drugs to treat flesh eating bacteria or the development of a vaccine. 

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