‘Flesh-eating bacteria’ infections rare, hospital official says

Bartlett Regional Hospital’s Infection Prevention Coordinator says Juneau residents have no reason to be concerned about a case of necrotizing fasciitis – the so-called “flesh-eating bacteria” – discovered in a patient recently.

Kim Vermedal says the deadly condition results when one of several different types of bacteria gets into the body and produces toxins and enzymes that destroy skin tissue. She says one type of bacteria associated with the infection is the same kind that causes strep throat.

“What can happen is you can get a wound, like a cut, and the bacteria then can enter our bodies, and that sets up a whole process where you get the necrotizing fasciitis,” Vermedal says.

Fortunately, full-blown infection is extremely rare. Not only do you need to have an open sore for the bacteria to get inside your body, but people with healthy immune systems are usually able to fight off the disease.

In most cases, Vermedal says simple hand washing can all but eliminate the risk of developing necrotizing fasciitis.

“The most important thing that people can do to prevent any kind of infections is wash your hands often. And always keep cuts and scrapes and burns and bug bites clean,” Vermedal says. “Sometimes people get a cut, and it’s, you know, the next day they think about cleaning it. So that’s something you don’t want to let go. You want to clean that right away.”

Vermedal says Bartlett has other precautions in place to prevent the spread of infections. That includes isolating patients with certain symptoms, like diarrhea or flu-like conditions. She says all hospital employees are required to get regular training on infection control, including proper hand washing practices.

“During new employee orientation, they’re given information about how we handle our infection prevention here in the hospital, and we have ongoing education that’s required,” she says.

Privacy laws prevent Vermedal from discussing the specific case of Juneau resident Ruben Pereyra, who was medevac’d from Bartlett two weeks ago with symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis. But she says she’s unaware of any other cases of the infection in Juneau.

A spokeswoman for Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center would only say Pereyra remains in satisfactory condition.

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