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The use of street drugs known as “bath salts” are the source of an outbreak of a rare flesh-eating disease.

Numerous cases of necrotizing fasciitis caused by an intramuscular injection of bath salts are being reported across the United States.

So-called “bath salts” are sold as synthetic powders that “often contain various amphetamine-like chemicals,” according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, which warned that injections can cause the ravaging skin condition.

It was first noticed when  doctors in New Orleans treated a 34-year-old woman who developed forearm pain and redness after she attended a party. She didn’t have any other symptoms but did have a small red puncture wound on her arm. The woman eventually admitted that she injected bath salts two days before her symptoms began.

The doctors reexamined her and determined that she had necrotizing fasciitis. The disease progressed so rapidly that the doctors had to amputate the woman’s arm, shoulder and collarbone and perform a radical mastectomy.

The woman later underwent skin grafting and rehabilitation.

“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 doctors who spoke with WWN.

Bath Salt users are running scared.  Not only can you get the flesh-eating disease from injecting the bath salts, but if you come in contact with someone who used bath salts, you may get the disease as well.

One woman reported that her boyfriend injected salts and two days later SHE developed symptoms. When the patient was reexamined, she had rapidly progressing redness, skin sloughing, and drainage. Necrotizing fasciitis was suspected and she immediately underwent emergent surgical debridement and exploration, and more antibiotics were added.

The infection moved so fast that pink, healthy tissue was literally dying before the surgeons’ eyes. They had to keep removing tissue until they reached clear margins of healthy tissue to stop the progression of disease.

In another case, a Mississippi woman’s experiment with the illicit drugs dubbed “bath salts” cost her both legs — and nearly her life — after she was ravaged by flesh-eating bacteria that invaded an injection site.

The 29-year-old woman showed up at a Mississippi hospital complaining of pain and redness on her right leg, where there was a puncture wound the woman admitted was a needle stick. She said the symptoms started two days after she injected bath salts at party.

Fearing for the woman’s life, doctors removed her right arm and shoulder and stripped away the dead muscle. They amputated her legs and cut away more unhealthy skin.  Why did the doctors do this?  Nobody knows, but major medical malpractice lawsuits have already been filed.  Tragedy added to tragedy.

Notwithstanding doctors error, the final diagnosis for the woman was “necrotizing fasciitis caused by streptococcus bacteria.” Such flesh-eating infections can kill quickly, with victims requiring surgery within an average of 25 hours of admission in order to survive.

Bath Salts are powerful synthetic stimulants and became popular in Western Europe in 2009 and showed up in the U.S. in Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky in August 2010. They’ve been smoked, snorted, taken orally and, now, injected.

In 2010, the American Association of Poison Control centers received about 3,000 calls about bath salts. Last year, the number climbed to more than 60,000, records show.

At least 16 states have enacted emergency bans on bath salts and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency banned three chemicals used to make them last fall. But Russo and his colleagues are warning other emergency department health workers to be vigilant when patients show up with skin infections after injections

The Center for Disease Control says that this bath salt epidemic is completely avoidable.  “The best treatment is prevention with public, street-based education and early detection,” said Dr. Ruskin from the CDC.  “Don’t inject yourself with bath salts!”