But it isn't make believe. Instead, it's a real-life horror story — one where a micro-organism enters the body through an open wound and begins to consume tissue from the inside out.
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Brent Hoover never suspected he would have fallen victim to such an infection.
He never would have imagined that a swollen arm would have resulted in the loss of a bicep or that he would have four surgeries to remove the bacteria that was destroying his body.
But last May, the 29-year-old man from Falling Waters, W.Va., came face to face with a medical nightmare and considers himself among the lucky ones who have lived to talk about it.
What is flesh-eating bacteria?
Also known as necrotizing fasciitis, flesh-eating bacteria is a misnomer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bacteria doesn't actually eat the flesh. But when it enters the body through an open wound, it can cause the destruction of skin and muscle by releasing toxins.
And it's a disease that needs immediate action. According to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation, many cases of the infection are ignored by patients, misdiagnosed or found late.
One in five people die from it. And those who do survive are left with scars.
During the past year, a Georgia student's experience with flesh-eating bacteria resulted in a leg amputation; a Bethesda, Md., teen, who cut her leg developed excessive bruising and swelling around the stitches and underwent 17 surgeries to remove dead muscle and tissue. She currently is learning to walk again.
Then, there is a Michigan woman and a California man who died from the infection — drawing national attention to a medical disorder that many people had never heard of and others knew only by its scary name.
Despite the number of headline cases, necrotizing fasciitis remains very rare, said Dr. Mohammed Ali, a physician with Summit Infectious Diseases, an affiliate of Summit Health in Chambersburg, Pa. Fewer than 1,000 diagnoses occur each year in the United States.
And he doesn't expect that to change.
"There is no evidence to show that there is a sudden flesh-eating bacteria outbreak," he said. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a surveillance system in place and it does not show a rise in the annual cases of this infection."
Ali said necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by more than one type of bacteria.
"The most common," he noted, "is group A streptococcus, which is generally mild to moderate and easily treated. However, sometimes these bacteria can produce toxins that can cause a death of tissues, which is where the 'necrotizing' is derived from in the name necrotizing fasciitis."
Brett Hoover's story
In Hoover's case, he was hit by a softball in the arm.
"According to the shock trauma nurses, the softball created a hematoma in my muscle where the bacteria attacked my arm," he said.