Hiker Barely Survives Infection From Flesh-Eating Bacteria

The odds are 250,000 to 1 it gets this bad
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 24, 2017 11:31 AM CDT
Hiker Barely Survives Infection From Flesh-Eating Bacteria
This image shows group A strep (orange) interacting with a human neutrophil (blue).   (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, via AP)

A Florida man is recovering from a month-long battle with a typically ho-hum bacterium that very nearly killed him. Health officials say he contracted group A strep, the strep throat strain that can live in our throats and noses and the environment around us, but which is capable of advancing all the way to flesh-eating bacteria and result in death when it infects an open wound and isn't treated. Wayne Atkins, 32, had visited family in New England in early June for a wedding and hiked Mount Garfield, where he got blisters on his feet, before he began to show signs of severe illness, reports WMUR. Still, it's unclear whether he was infected while hiking, or in a pool back in Florida, or simply from his own body.

By the time Atkins' mom, a nurse, got to his Miami hospital, he was already in liver and kidney failure. "He went into this respiratory condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome where your lungs just fill with fluid," she says. Doctors put him in a medically induced coma for more than two weeks, cut away the infected skin, and gave him antibiotics, which won. "He has his life, he has his leg," his mother says. The chief of New Hampshire's Bureau of Infectious Disease Control tells the Union Leader most people infect themselves, and that Atkins' "unusual complication" occurs in up to 1,000 cases in the US every year. So while the strain of strep is common, the odds are 250,000 to 1 that it'll advance to be flesh-eating. Docs say to keep wounds clean, dry, and covered. "If this is not treated appropriately ... the chance of dying is 100%," one expert cautions. (This mom wasn't so lucky.)

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