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Infection is not flesh-eating, not uncommon in Augusta, experts say

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Dr. Jack Austin is pretty clear about all of the interest in so-called flesh-eating bacteria sparked by the highly publicized case of a Georgia woman fighting a devastating infection at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital.

“There’s no such thing as a flesh-eating bacteria,” said Austin, an infectious disease expert at University Hospital and the Walton Wound Care Center. “It’s a media-derived, made-up word.”

Austin sees one or two cases a month, usually in people with compromised immune systems.

Doctors, a regional referral center for many large wounds, saw 42 cases last year, including 33 from Georgia and seven from South Carolina, Doctors spokeswoman Barclay Bishop said.

About 8.5 percent – three or four of the wound cases – were admitted to the intensive care unit.

The invasive infection is often caused by common bacteria.

The infection is most often associated with group A streptococcus, typically found in the throat or on the skin, that causes common mild infections such as “strep throat” or an itchy skin rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But in 9,000 to 11,500 cases a year, it gets into the bloodstream, becomes invasive and causes a much more serious infection. It takes a certain set of conditions or just bad luck for it to cause necrotizing fasciitis, Austin said.

In up to 7 percent of those systemic infections, it gets into the fascia, the lining between muscle groups and organ systems,
where it can create a reservoir of infection and spread rapidly, Austin said.

It often takes surgery to stay ahead of the infection. Damage from toxins and lack of blood flow kill surrounding flesh,
attacking small blood vessels in organs such as the kidneys and in the hands and feet, said Dr. Steve Holsten, the associate professor of trauma and critical medicine at Georgia Health Sciences University.

The toxins and the body’s response can also drop blood pressure to dangerously low levels and send patients into shock, Austin and Holsten said.

About 25 percent of necrotizing fasciitis patients die, the CDC said.

While more cases are coming to light in the wake of the publicity surrounding Aimee Copeland, “there is not an epidemic” of the infections, Austin said.

They show up regularly in Augusta, not only at Doctors but also at University, he said.

“We see massive soft tissue infections all the time,” Holsten said.

“They just don’t make the press,” Austin said.

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broad street narrow mind
broad street narrow mind 05/22/12 - 06:55 pm
some might say we're seeing

some might say we're seeing the medical version of missing white woman syndrome.

happychimer 05/22/12 - 07:39 pm
So the drs at Doctors

So the drs at Doctors Hospital are wrong? I don't think so.

Fiat_Lux 05/23/12 - 09:35 am
Oh, please.

This was an explanation and elaboration, NOT a contradiction.

Believe it or not, Drs. Austin and Holsten do know what they are talking about. What they said wasn't news to a lot of people who comment regularly. Necrotizing fasciitis just isn't all that unusual. You just hope it never happens to you, yourself, nor to anyone you care about. And it's one of the reasons why it's so important to treat even relatively minor injuries and watch for any signs of infection.

It's far better to annoy (and pay) your doctor because of unnecessary visits than to play catch up on something like this.

Tom Corwin
Tom Corwin 05/23/12 - 11:43 am
Doctors at Doctors are not wrong

Happy Chimer,

This is not contradicting the doctors at Doctors Hospital, who have not commented on the Copeland case at this point. What Dr. Austin and Dr. Holsten are saying is that we should not be using the phrase "flesh-eating" to describe the bacteria or this infection, as that is not accurate. The correct phrase is necrotizing fasciitis. The incidence rates show it is rare but not uncommon in Augusta, where we see cases from around the state and from around the Southeast.

David Parker
David Parker 05/23/12 - 04:11 pm
I had the necrotic staph type

I had the necrotic staph type from a piddly little bug bite (recluse maybe). Left a divot in my calf. The folks at JMS Burn Center are worth their weight in gold and never once, did I get nervous about the issue. It happens and they are ready to handle it. The biggest thing to take from all of this is not to wait to get it tested. If it's necrotic, the clock ticks and like the article explained, once it gets in the fascia, it becomes a dire situation.

happychimer 05/23/12 - 09:05 pm
“There’s no such thing as a

“There’s no such thing as a flesh-eating bacteria,” said Austin

The patient's father told what the drs at Doctors Hospital told him.The layman's term is flesh eating bacteria.

happychimer 05/23/12 - 09:13 pm
Look at the links on the left

Look at the links on the left side of this page. So Augusta Chronicle wrote false statements? Flesh eating bacteria is listed 8 times.Just because a dr says something is not true does not mean he knows what he is talking about.

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