Flesh eating bacteria is once again in the news circuit after a Georgia woman contracted a severe case after falling from a zip line into a river. Aimee Copeland had both hands and a leg amputated but she is recovering and now breathing on her own.
Dr. Jeffery Sartin is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and he says flesh eating bacteria made news back in the 1990’s but it appears to have mutated and they are seeing an increase in numbers.
He says there are different resistant germs including the staff infection mrsa that are being treated in the state. He says there are other “odd-ball” germs like the one Copeland is suffering from that basically lives in water.
Dr. Sartin says for the most part flesh eating bacteria does not spread from one person to another but if you do have contact with one who is infected you may have that bacteria on your body. He says this is why it is important to treat all cuts and puncture wounds by keeping them clean with soap and water and then a bandage. He says if it does become infected, seek medical treatment immediately.
Dr. Sartin says symptoms include extreme pain and some discharge. He says there is swelling around the wound, a foul smell and the skin may become soft and discolored. He says those are clues there is a lot of tissue damage happening.
Dr. Jeff Cooper is the medical director of the hyperbaric oxygen unit at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and says they have treated six patients with the disease in the past month. He says “We’ve never treated so many patients for necrotizing ffasciitis in such a short time.” He adds hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a very important part of successfully treating the disease.
Dr. Cooper says the hyperbaric oxygen unit forces oxygen into the infected areas that are not getting enough oxygen because of tissue damage and swelling. This revives the immune system and allows the white blood cells to do their job and fight the infection. It also helps antibiotics work better because there is more oxygen getting to the wound.
Dr. Cooper says 30 to 40-percent of those who contract the disease will die and the bacteria spreads rapidly. People can lose limbs and often people die of sepsis.
The Nebraska Med Center is home to the state’s only level one hyperbaric oxygen unit.