Roper doctors treating man for flesh-eating bacteria
A man who was admitted to Roper Hospital last week suffering from a rare flesh-eating bacterial infection continued to receive treatment in downtown Charleston on Saturday night, one of his doctors confirmed.
Dr. Todd Shuman would not identify the patient or the origin or effect of his necrotizing fasciitis, which attacks soft tissue and muscle. But Shuman, director of Roper’s intensive care unit, emphasized that the condition is not contagious and that he is “hopeful” the patient will survive.
“He’s making appropriate progress at this point,” Shuman said.
Shuman, a surgical critical care physician, said necrotizing fasciitis occurs in only three of 100,000 people and that this week’s case was the first he’s seen in his 2½ years at Roper. However, it’s just the latest reported instance of the fast-moving and potentially lethal disease in South Carolina and Georgia recently.
Barry Ginn, a 59-year-old Hilton Head resident, was treated by the Medical University of South Carolina in February. Aimee Copeland of Snellville, Ga.; Lana Kuykendall in Greenville; and Bobby Vaughn of Cartersville, Ga., have also been infected, according to media reports.
Shuman said the condition “almost always occurs in sort of spontaneous occurrence in the community.” It can also attack people whose immune systems are compromised by chemotherapy, other medicines or diseases like diabetes.
Treatment generally begins with a broad spectrum of antibiotics, he said. That’s because the condition can be caused by two types of bacteria: streptococcus and clostridium. Once the infection has been halted, the dead tissue is removed.
The current Roper patient is undergoing hyperbaric oxygen treatments, Shuman said. The hyperbaric chamber’s salubrious effect is twofold.
“First of all, some of the bacteria live without needing oxygen ,and they’re killed by getting oxygen,” he said. “Secondly, oxygen really increases blood flow, and blood flow will really increase the delivery of antibiotics to the area. There’s good studies that show hyperbaric oxygen decreases mortality and decreases … complications of necrotizing fasciitis.”
The mortality rate is 20 percent to 25 percent, but the majority who survive must undergo multiple surgeries, as Ginn did, to patch the “defect,” Shuman said.
“So there’s this mortality and then this additional morbidity, or problems which may occur from having to take the tissue which is dead away and sometimes it can lead to amputation,” he noted, without saying what would happen in the current case.
Shuman said there hasn’t been an increase in incidence lately, just in media coverage.
“I think it’s just more a reflection of our society than of what’s changed in terms of medicine,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. This is something to be educated about.”
Wounds should be washed vigorously, he said, and if swelling or redness persists, seek medical attention quickly.
“And this patient did that,” Shuman said. “This patient had significant pain, had significant swelling and sought medical attention.
“The sooner you can get medical attention,” Shuman said, “the greater the chance of survival.”