A team of orthopedic surgeons at have found that the illegal use of bath salts through injection can lead to a flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis and in some cases, death.
A new study conducted by LSU orthopedic specialists describes the first known case of necrotizing fasciitis, which is caused by an intramuscular injection of bath salts. The study was published in the January 2012 issue of Orthopedics, according to KSLA News.
Necrotizing fasciitis is an orthopedic emergency, according to the report. It is more commonly known as flesh-eating disease, flesh-eating bacteria syndrome or gangrene. It destroys muscle, skin and underlying tissue.
The ability to accurately diagnose the disease is difficult because it usually first reveals itself as cellulitis- a more common skin infection caused by bacteria- and most of the damage occurs beneath the skin.
The report says it is caused by the intramuscular injection of "bath salts," a rapidly emerging street drug that is legal in some states and evades authorities with its innocuous name.
The study was conducted by Dr. Russell R. Russo, a third-year orthopedic surgery resident at Louisiana University Health Sciences Center New Orleans School and School of Medicine; Dr. Noah Marks; Dr. Katy Morris; Dr. Heather King; Dr. Angelle Gelvin; and Dr. Ronald Rooney also took part in the study.
The team of orthopedic surgeons treated a 34-year old woman that developed pain in her forearm after a party.
According to the report, the patient suffered from extensive cellulitis down her upper arm just two days after the injection of bath salts.
She showed no other symptoms besides a small red puncture wound.
The cellulitis, which initially responded to intravenous antibiotics, rapidly deteriorated after two days. The woman eventually admitted to ingesting bath salts.
When she was re-examined it was determined that the woman had necrotizing fasciitis. It had spread so fast that doctors had to amputate the woman's arm, shoulder, collarbone and perform a radical mastectomy and a chest wall debridement to obtain healthy tissue margins and control the disease.
Debridement is the surgical removal of lacerated, devitalized, or contaminated tissue. She made a full recovery after further procedures, including the skin grafting.
Bath salts have gained increasing worldwide popularity in the past few years and, according to the report, has no legitimate use for bathing.
According to the study, bath salts also are marketed under false pretenses to evade authorities, leading to them being banned in 16 states. The authors said that people should ignore the drug's legal status.
"Despite the drug's legal status, it must be treated as illicit, and one must be suspicious when examining a patient with this clinical history because the diagnosis of flesh-eating bacteria can masquerade as abscesses and cellulitis," said the study.
The drug has been used in oral, smokable and snortable forms. The injectable method can cause pain, swelling or necrotizing fasciitis, leading to limb amputation and death.