By: J. D. Heyes
Increasingly, Americans are being hit with strains of flesh-eating bacteria, and worse yet, hospitals themselves are harboring the nasty bugs.
The condition, known as necrotizing fasciitis – a serious infection of the skin and soft tissues – has manifested itself in a number of people recently, with cases in South Carolina and Georgia, according to reports.
Lana Kuykendall, a 36-year-old mother of twins, was admitted to Greenville Memorial Hospital in South Carolina May 11, just days after giving birth, complaining of a sore spot on one of her legs. Soon after, she was diagnosed with the flesh-eating condition.
Before long Kuykendall, who sometimes worked as a paramedic, had already undergone seven different operations in an attempt to bring the infection under control. A hospital spokesperson said that, as of May 20, she remained in critical, but stable, condition.
“She still has a long road ahead of her,” her brother, Brian Swaffer, told Reuters. “We’re thankful that the infection is contained to just her legs. Her organs, her vitals are good. She’s got a great team of doctors.”
More cases cropping up
There have been two other cases reported as well in recent weeks, both of them in Georgia. One involves 24-year-old Georgia student Aimee Copeland, who has also had several operations and remains in critical condition herself in Doctors Hospital of Augusta.
Doctors believe she may have contracted the fasciitis after sustaining a very large cut in her leg in a zip-line accident and falling into the Little Tallapoosa River in Georgia on May 1. Doctors say her infection was likely caused by Aeromonos hydrophila bacteria, which are found in fresh or brackish water, Reuters reported, and could have entered her body through the wound.
Copeland’s infection is severe enough that she has already had one leg amputated and was told recently she would lose both hands and the foot on her remaining leg.
Meanwhile,Doctors Hospital of Augusta is treating Bobby Vaughn, 32, for a flesh-eating bacterial infection as well, though he’s been reported as being in good condition. His infection “went from the size of a little peanut to a grapefruit fast,” he told a local TV station. He’s had five surgeries.
Dr. Bill Kelly, epidemiologist for the Greenville Hospital System, said Kuykendall’s infection was caused by Group A streptococcus, which, according to other health care experts, lives on people’s skin or in their nose.
So why is being in the hospital potentially even more dangerous for these victims? Because, a 2011 study found, hospital rooms are rife with such disease-causing bacteria, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococcus), which were found on 95 percent of hospital room privacy curtains tested, researchers from the University of Iowa found.
Worse yet, replacing them did no good; most were re-contaminated within a week, the researchers said.
Contamination – and re-contamination
To get their results, the research team tested 43 curtains in 30 hospital rooms twice a week for three weeks, taking 180 swab cultures total, Time magazine reported. This is what they found:
- Twelve of 13 new curtains were re-contaminated within 7 days;
- Of 43 curtains, 41 of them were contaminated at least once;
- MRSA was discovered on 21 percent of curtains;
- VRE was even more prevalent – it was found on 43 percent of curtains.
The reason why these findings are significant is because MRSAisone of the flesh-eating varieties of resistant superbugs currently afflicting Kuykendall, Copeland and Vaughn.
In fact, the problem isn’t new. Experts were warning in 2008 that MSRA in particular would be showing up more often -in hospitals.
Dr. Daniel Pallin, director of clinical research in the department of emergency medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said an examination of medical records showed that visits to emergency departments due to MRSA rose from 1.2 million in 1993 to 3.4 million in 2005.
Pallin said while it’s not time to panic yet, though “a certain level of concern is appropriate.”
Especially if you’re someone battling one of these bugs
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