HOUSTON — Researchers in Houston are trying to cure flesh-eating bacteria, which is a deadly disease that attacks muscles.

Dr. James Musser at Houston Methodist has been studying flesh-eating disease for 30 years.

The infection’s clinical name is necrotizing myositis or fasciitis. Doctors say it’s a form of a much more common illness, group A streptococcus. Strep throat impacts 600 million people a year.

Using a genetic tool first used in horses, Dr. Musser’s team recently identified up to 100 genes linked to the bacterial infection.

It’s a major breakthrough towards stopping the disease.

“If you can imagine trying to play a chess game against an organism that produces so many different what we call virulence factors, that’s a tough game,” said Musser, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at Houston Methodist.

He expects a vaccine or treatment for flesh-eating disease to be developed in the next 10 to 15 years.

However, researchers at Houston Methodist are working towards a larger long-term goal.

“Ultimately, all of us here in the laboratory want to create a vaccine, a human vaccine, against group A strep that hopefully would protect every human worldwide of things like pharyngitis, strep throat, the flesh-eating disease, rheumatic fever and so forth,” Dr. Musser said.

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