“Bath Salts” and Flesh-Eating Bacteria


The are many reasons not to use recreational drugs and this story is likely one of the scariest.

So called “bath salts,” which have nothing to do with bathing, are widely available and legal to acquire. A study that was just published in the journal Orthopedics reveals for the first time a link between use of these salts and the flesh-eating bacteria or necrotizing fasciitis. It is caused by a variety of bacteria including Group A streptococcus (Streptococcus pyogenes), Staphylococcus aureus, Vibrio vulnificus, Clostridium perfringens and Bacteroides fragilis). While these bacteria can normally be killed by antibiotics, surgery and even amputation becomes necessary once the infection progresses deep within the tissue.

Medical experts are warning of a potentially lethal new designer drug exploding in popularity across the United States this year. The stimulant is sold as “bath salts” and in many states it is perfectly legal. [It’s also sometimes sold as “plant food.” –Ed.]

From the article: {Warning: If you go to the article’s link, it has several gory photographs of the patient’s affected arm.}

The patient presented 2 days after injection of bath salts with extensive cellulitis extending to the mid portion of her upper arm. The cellulitis initially responded to broad-spectrum intravenous antibiotics, but rapidly deteriorated 48 hours later, leading to a forequarter amputation with radical mastectomy and chest wall debridement to obtain healthy tissue margins and control the disease.

A large retrospective study performed in California between 1984 and 1999 showed a sharp increase in necrotizing fasciitis between 1994 and 1999 in conjunction with the rise in popularity of the intravenous drug black tar heroin. 11 Hopefully, this rise in popularity of bath salts does not preclude a similar rise in necrotizing fasciitis, but surgeons must be ready to diagnose and perform extensive debridements in association with general surgeons in some instances to obtain limb salvage and function and prevent death.


  1. #1 UBS
    January 12, 2012

    and in Soviet-Russia, the drug eats you….literally (referring to “krokodil”, or desomorphine)

  2. #2 ildi
    January 12, 2012

    The patient presented 2 days after injection of bath salts with extensive cellulitis extending to the mid portion of her upper arm.

    Ah, from shooting up, not snorting, as the pic implies. Reading the article indicates that shooting up illegal drugs is the problem (dirty needles), and this is a case study of shooting up bath salts causing necrotizing fasciitis. Not that using bath salts is innocuous, but it would be nice to summarize what the case study actually says, you know?

    (referring to “krokodil”, or desomorphine)

    “Bath salts” is mephedrone, which is a stimulant.

  3. #3 Jeff
    January 12, 2012

    Of course. Thank you for your comment. I was going to use a photograph of the patient’s arm but decided not to use it as it is too graphic.

  4. #4 GregH
    January 13, 2012

    This post is not leading to “appreciation of the beauty and impact of science in our daily lives.”

    It is leading to more confusion about street drug use. Is there a point here, or is this just fodder for moralizing politicians?

  5. #5 Ladybug1081
    May 11, 2012

    Can u get actual bugs in ur body and skin from bath salts or is this just a hallucination? My friend swears there are bugs in his body and they are eating him alive….

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