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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

What to do if you contract flesh-eating bacteria

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It’s not often that you would associate flesh-eating bacteria with giving birth or the ever-popular zip line activity. Unfortunately, in the past weeks, the news of two women and a man diagnosed with the rare infection has put people on notice.

Aimee Copeland, a grad student from Georgia, has had several amputations including her hands and feet. She developed the condition, also known as necrotizing fasiitis, after cutting her leg in a fall from a homemade zip line over a river earlier this month.

A week later, after giving birth to twins, Lana Kuykendall of Greenville, S.C., underwent a series of operations to remove dead or damaged tissue after contracting the condition. She remains in critical condition. And last week, it was reported that an Augusta, Ga., landscaper, Bobby Vaughn was recovering from five surgeries where doctors removed nearly two pounds of infected tissue near his groin.

While flesh-eating bacteria are common in the environment, it rarely infects humans. However, when they do cause infection, they attack the body quickly, which means doctors must act immediately to try to prevent the disease from spreading. In Kuykendall’s case, her immediate action likely saved her life. After returning home, she noticed a bruise on the back of her leg grow. Doctors have cut out skin and tissue from both of Kuykendall’s legs and put her on antibiotics. She is in critical condition and on a ventilator, but her husband said she will likely be OK.

Although cases are unusual – experts estimate fewer than 250 cases a year – being aware of warning signs are critical.

What is necrotizing fasiitis?

An infection that starts in the tissues just below the skin and spreads along the flat layers of tissue (known as fascia) that separate different layers of soft tissue, such as muscle and fat. This dangerous infection is most common in the arms, legs and abdominal wall and is fatal in 30 to 40 percent of cases.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include redness, swelling and pain in the affected area. Blisters may be seen in the involved area of skin. Fever, nausea, vomiting and other flulike symptoms are common. Another characteristic of necrotizing fasciitis is that the symptoms develop very rapidly, usually within 24 hours after a wound in the skin has allowed the bacteria to invade the tissues beneath the skin. The pain is described as being more severe than would be expected from the appearance of the wound. Late symptoms can include death (gangrene) of affected areas with scaling, discoloration, or peeling of the skin.

How is necrotizing fasiitis treated?

Necrotizing fasciitis is treated with antibiotics, and early treatment is critical. Hospitalization, usually with treatment in the intensive-care unit is required. Surgery to remove infected fluids and tissue may be necessary, along with medications to treat shock and other potential complications.

Information from the Associated Press and medicinenet.com contributed to this story.

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