Flesh Eating Bacteria
The following information was sent to Bob Gonsett,
W6VR, on May 30 1998, by Chris Carmichael, a newspaper
reporter for the North County Times. The sections
which follow are extracts from Chris' letters:
Sorry I didn't respond earlier -- but my sister in Colorado was a victim
of the flesh-eating virus. She pulled through, but lost most of the
function of her right arm. She "got" the virus by riding a mountain bike
in the San de Cristo mountains and had a minor SCRAPE on her arm. Amazing,
the treatment was to slice the arm open, leaving it exposed and placing
her in an air chamber with three atmospheres in pure oxygen.....
(Her name is) Nancy Harvey, Florence, Colorado. The virus was "caught" near
Westcliffe, Colorado on the Freemont county line.
She's still in the hospital in Denver, in the maxi-atmosphere room 12-hours a
day. After I wrote the previous e.mail, she called and talked to me!
Another note on how fast this happened: accident was late Monday [memorial
day]. She noticed the slight swelling on Tuesday morning, and by Tuesday
afternoon went to the doctor in Canon City -- and was immediately air evac to
Denver. She went under surgery at 3 p.m. -- about 2.5 hours after seeing her
doctor in Canon. Her tissue has gone from grey/green to pink in a matter of
72-hours. Fast acting, and it was caught before it entered the torso --
which if it did, would have killed her. Her arm will be "exposed" until
Monday. It will, however, be a lengthy process for healing. Thank goodness
she has an HMO.
The doctor at St. Lukes said if she would have waited another two hours, I
could have a sadder story to relay.
To put things in proper perspective,
here is medical information on flesh eating
What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis?
The many links listed in our  links section, as well as dozens of
others on the Internet, give much detailed information about
necrotizing fasciitis. Following is a basic description written with
the help of Dr. Steven Triesenberg, MD (Infectious Disease Specialist)
in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a bacterial infection. This bacteria attacks
the soft tissue, usually in an extremity following minor trauma. There
are also many cases of this occurring after surgery, and most often
The Group A Strep infection (flesh eating bacteria) is most common
with minor trauma. A mixed bacterial infection is often the cause
We can personally tell you about people who got it after a c-section,
after abdominal surgery, after scratching a rash, after giving birth
vaginally, from a scratch, after bumping a leg with a golf bag, after
a friendly punch in the arm from a buddy, after a little cut on the
finger, after a cut on the foot, after a rug burn, after having a
routine blood draw in a physical exam, after a broken arm, and after a
broken leg, and from no known trauma at all.
The bacteria is introduced from being near someone who is carrying
Strep Type A, or being somewhere Strep Type A is present. This is the
same bacteria that causes Strep throat. However, there are various
strains of the bacteria, some of which are more powerful than others
(with stronger m-protein serotypes). If the right set of conditions
are present, this is when the necrotizing fasciitis occurs.
The "right" set of conditions are:
1. A person usually has to have a contusion, abrasion, cut, or opening
in the skin in order to have the bacteria enter. Spontaneous cases are
reported but rare.
2. - They have to come into contact with someone, or be someplace
where Strep Type A is present.
3. - It usually is an invasive strain or serotype, of the strep.
A person does not need any predisposing conditions to be prone to
this. It can happen to anyone...young, old, adult, child, any race,
any size, healthy or not. No one is out of danger. You do not need to
be immunodepressed to get this.
The name "flesh-eating-bacteria" is a little sensational, but
essentially, this is what the bacteria does. It attacks the
subcutaneous (soft) tissue, and it becomes gangrenous. It moves very
quickly, (usually under the skin not on top where it can be seen).
Once tissue becomes necrotic (dead) it has to be removed.
If it is caught very early, tissue loss can be "relatively" small,
with removal of flesh and subcutaneous tissue, and fat only. The
bacteria usually does not attack muscle or bone. In more advanced
cases (and this is often) major limb amputation is necessary.
Death from this condition is not uncommon, however many people are
In addition to the tissue decay, the bacteria causes the rest of the
system to go into systemic shock. This may result in respiratory
failure, heart failure, low blood pressure and renal failure.
Basically, every system of the body can fail as a result of the severe
infection and toxicity of the system.
This is not a reoccurring condition. If a person survives this, the
bacteria is gone. Surgical sites are left open for a sufficient period
of time and reinspected to be sure that the remaining tissue is no
longer being destroyed. When they are sure of this, the wound is
closed, and usually skin grafting takes place. Then the recovery
process starts...but there is not a chance of reoccurrence from the
bacteria at this point.
The whole process usually occurs within a week from the point of
contraction to the outcome. This can vary, however. People can die in
24 hours, while some lucky ones have waited as much as a week to get
treatment and have amazingly survived.
Prompt treatment is essential in this condition. It is one of the
fastest spreading infections known, so time is the most important
factor in survival.
This page was last updated on July 06, 2003.