SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 News) - With a second case of “flesh-eating bacteria” in less than a week, many Americans are beginning to worry about their own risk – and whether this type of rare, but potentially deadly infection is on the rise.
In both Georgia and South Carolina, two young women are fighting for their lives after contracting the flesh-eating bacteria, called necrotizing fasciitis. But it's hitting close to home, right here in Utah as well.
Kimberly Brooks started noticing a random bruise on her knee early last January. She said it appeared after visiting her mother-in-law at a local hospital. "Later the next morning, it (the bruise) had almost quadrupled in size," says Brooks.
Kimberly says at first, a doctor told her to go home and take some ibuprofen for the pain, but as the bruise grew bigger, her symptoms worsened. Within just a couple of days, Kimberly landed in the hospital as a patient, undergoing several emergency surgeries including a skin graft.
The flesh-eating bacteria is actually a mutation of the bacteria that can cause strep throat, and in some rare instances, pneumonia. Many people come in contact with it every day, but for hundreds of Americans every year, it takes a more serious turn. According to doctors, it can work its way very quickly and painfully through the body, eventually leading to damaged organs and possible amputation.
"On occasion the Group A strep gets from the throat, circulates in the bloodstream, finds this area of muscle injury and stops there, sets up shop and begins to cause serious infection," says Vanderbilt University Preventive Medicine Doctor William Schaffner.
The bacteria can breed anywhere. Recently a mother who had just given birth to twins from South Carolina came in contact with the bacteria by inhaling it. In other cases, it has been found in fresh water areas.
The treatment consists of large doses of antibiotics and surgery. About one in five cases, the disease is fatal.
Kimberly Brooks, who has formed a support group for other survivors or people affected by the bacteria wants to get the word out, especially if it can help save a life. "A lot of the cases are misdiagnosed. That's why I'm here to let people know. You know your body better than anybody else. You know something's going on. Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion."