/ Modified mar 28, 2016 7:19 p.m.

Deadly Strep 'Superbug' Identified In Northern Arizona

Unusual strain causes severe skin infections that can lead to amputations or death

Group A Strep spot The bacteria, called Group A Strep, typically causes strep throat.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

By Melissa Sevigny, Arizona Science Desk

Flagstaff scientists have identified a rare strain of “flesh-eating bacteria” in Coconino County. It’s the first time the “superbug” has been seen in Arizona.

The bacteria, called Group A Strep, typically causes strep throat, but this unusual strain causes severe skin infections instead, sometimes leading to amputations or death.

Arizona health officials identified 18 cases last year. They worked with Flagstaff’s Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to confirm the genetic identity of the strain.

David Engelthaler, who led the investigation, said the analysis is ongoing.

“We don’t think there’s a large risk to the public in general, but we also know that there are steps we’ve got to take to be vigilant and keep looking for cases," said Engelthaler. "It may be that we’ve seen the whole thing, but it may also be just the tip of the iceberg."

Engelthaler said the infection seems to be spread by skin-to-skin contact. Most of the reported cases occurred in jails and homeless shelters.

The same strain of bacteria caused a nationwide epidemic in Canada a decade ago, but it’s rarely seen in the United States.

The full report appears in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The Arizona Science Desk is a collaboration of public broadcasting entities in the state, including Arizona Public Media.

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