Wayne Atkins, a 32-year old man from Florida, almost died after a deadly flesh-eating bacteria infection. He contracted this disease while he was hiking Mount Garfield in New Hampshire.

Atkins was taken to the hospital because he was complaining about some blisters on his foot. His health was deteriorating quickly. Luckily he didn’t lose any vital part of his body.

Image Credit: Dan Taylor / BABW News
Image Credit: Dan Taylor / BABW News

“He played some soccer and really noticed some blisters and an area of redness on his shin. By the time I got to Miami that night, he was already in liver failure, kidney failure, he went into this respiratory condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome where your lungs just fill with fluid,” Atkins’ mother, Karen Gaudreau, stated.

Don’t ignore the blisters on your feet

Wayne Atkins visited the Granite State in New England to attend a family member’s wedding on June 4. While he was there, he decided to spend time outside to enjoy the nature; he went to the 4,500-foot-high Mount Garfield. He made a 10-mile round trip there; so when he returned to his family’s home, he noticed some blisters on his foot but didn’t pay much attention to them because a lot of people discover some blisters after they hike.

Soon, he went back to Florida; but the blisters didn’t disappear, and they kept on hurting him more and more. When he finally decided to go to the hospital, he found out that he had contracted a flesh-eating bacteria caused by Group A Streptococcus. It had entered into his body through the blisters on his foot, and it was devouring his body.  His organs were shutting down. Doctors gave him antibiotics, and they had to cut away infected areas of the foot to save Atkin, who spent two weeks in a coma. Although his health was threatened, he could make it without losing his limbs. He will have to receive skin grafts and more rehabilitation.

Podiatrists advise getting our feet checked at least once per year, and before and after going on a hike. Image Credit: Berkeley Wellness
Podiatrists advise getting our feet checked at least once per year, and before and after going on a hike. Image Credit: Berkeley Wellness

“I came pretty close to death at one point, but now, thanks to the love of friends, family, God and a phenomenal medical staff, I now appear to be a couple skin grafts and some rehab away from a full recovery (a couple more weeks),” said Atkins.

Mount Garfield is not to blame for Atkin’s infection

New Hampshire and specifically the Mount Garfield have gained a bad reputation as a source of flesh-eating bacteria. In fact, many newspapers and websites blame the whole situation on the Mount. However, according to doctors and experts, saying that a person got infected because they went there is not true because the Group A Strep is quite common and it can be found almost anywhere, especially in our organisms.

“To say that someone acquired it in New Hampshire and we have flesh-eating bacteria isn’t exactly accurate … He could have had it in his own throat. He could have gotten it from other people before he came to New Hampshire to hike,” New Hampshire Division of Public Health chief of the Infectious Disease Bureau Beth Daly explained. “You never will know where the bacteria came from, but most people are getting the bacteria first from themselves.”

Daly said that what is important is to have good hygiene, especially when people notice they have wounds such as blisters or bug bites. She said that this bacteria is common and generally if people have a healthy immune system and a good hygiene they can fight this infection without a problem.

The flesh-eating bacteria produces symptoms within hours after infection

Symptoms produced by the necrotizing fasciitis or the flesh-eating bacteria progress rapidly as it spreads in the body; however, these symptoms can be confused with other ailments, such as a pulled muscle, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It might produce fatigue, chills, fever or vomiting right after infection. The Group A Strep that produces this infection is also the same type of bacteria that leads to strep throat.

“People with necrotizing fasciitis often start having symptoms within a few hours after an injury,” the CDC writes.

Every year about 13,000 people contract an invasive and threatening form of strep A that leads to complications such as pneumonia, according to the CDC. Doctors consider that the chances of being infected by this bacteria are 1 among 250,000.

New Hampshire was one of the states with the highest incidence of Strep A infections as of 2006. Image Credit: CDC
New Hampshire was one of the states with the highest incidence of Group A Strep infections as of 2006. Image Credit: CDC

The flesh-eating bacteria infects and degenerates the tissue that connects the muscles, nerves, and blood vessels, which are called fascia. The bacteria then starts damaging all the tissues next to the fascia by poisoning them. When this happens is because the infection has already spread through the organism. The infected tissues lead to the death of limbs, which have to be removed. Therefore, when people have wounds, they should clean them and make an effort to keep them dry and covered.

Source: The Washington Post