Infection rare, symptoms obvious
Sharon Begley, senior U.S. health and science correspondent, Reuters
WASHINGTON - The flesh-eating bacteria that severely sickened a Georgia student is extremely rare and is made apparent by symptoms that would be hard to miss.
Sharon Begley, a senior U.S. health and science correspondent at Reuters, tells WTOP to contract the infection, there has to be "a constellation of factors, all of them leading to just atrocious bad luck."
"[The bacteria] are not a threat to most people," Begley says. "Most of us can go into bodies of water, go into the local pond, and even if we have a hangnail or something, we do not get flesh-eating bacteria."
Begley says about 750 cases of flesh-eating bacteria infections are reported each year, but those are caused by the Strep bacteria, which is not what infected Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old woman who recently lost her leg.
Copeland cut her leg after she fell from a zip line and landed in a body of water where the Aeromonas bacteria entered her bloodstream and caused the infection.
"This poor woman had even worse luck," Begley says. "There are literally just a handful of cases reported over the past few decades."
Flesh-eating bacteria, especially Strep, can be found anywhere, but are common in fresh bodies of warm water. They do not do well in salt water.
However, most people with healthy immune systems are not at risk of getting an infection, even if exposed.
"Certainly if you see a red mark, a rash forming around the open area, that's a cause for concern and you should seek medical attention," Begley says.
"You'll see a small, red painful lump. It can grow very rapidly ... sometimes in less than an hour, so that's obviously a tip-off. If the center becomes black and looks like it's dying ... that's something to be concerned about. You can feel feverish. You can sweat and have chills."
Begley says those infected will become extremely sick and the illness is not easily overlooked.
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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