Instant Guide

The South's flesh-eating bacteria scare: A concise guide

In the second case of necrotizing fasciitis to surface this month, a Georgia woman is hospitalized after doctors discovered the bacteria spreading through her leg

A second case of flesh-eating bacteria has been reported in the South. Like 24-year-old Aimee Copeland, who is fighting for life after the disease spread through her body following a zip-lining accident, the latest patient — 36-year-old new mom Lana Kuykendall — contracted the bacteria in Georgia after a bruise-like injury spread throughout her leg. She was admitted to the Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center last Friday. Here, a concise guide to the developments:

What is fresh-eating bacteria?
Technically known as necrotizing fasciitus, it is a bacterial infection that attacks the body's soft tissue and the "fascia," a layer of tissue that sheaths the muscles. To quote the National Necrotizing Fasciitus Foundation's website, "the name 'flesh-eating-bacteria' is a little sensational, but essentially, this is what the bacteria appears to do. It gets into the body, quickly reproduces, and gives off toxins and enzymes that destroy the soft tissue and fascia, which quickly becomes gangrenous (dead)." That dead tissue must be surgically removed to save the victim's life.

How did Kuykendall get it?
A number of bacteria found naturally in the environment can cause the condition, but experts say the body's immune system is usually able to fight off infection without consequence. In this case, it's unclear how Kuykendall got the disease, but the new mother was healthy when she gave birth to twins on May 7 in Atlanta. A few days later, however, she was rushed back to the hospital after a palm-sized bruise on her leg quickly ballooned to "the size of a sheet of paper." At this point, Kuykendall has already undergone five rounds of surgery to "remove necrotic, or dead, tissue from her lower leg," said a hospital representative. She remains ill and on a ventilator, but is otherwise in stable condition. 

Why is this case such a big deal?
As the second case of necrotizing fasciitis this month, it is exacerbating fears that the rare disease has somehow taken root in Georgia. Aimee Copeland, a graduate student at the University of West Georgia, required 22 staples for a deep gash in her leg after falling from a homemade zip-line across a river. Her plight received national attention when she was hospitalized a few days later with severe pain, and doctors discovered that a strain of bacteria, Aeromonas hydrophila, had furrowed deep into her wound and spread to other parts of her body. Over the course of two weeks, doctors amputated her hands, left leg, and right foot to keep the bacteria from spreading to her vital organs. She is currently fighting complications, but it appears her life has been saved.

So is the disease on the rise?
Probably not. "Necrotizing fasciitis has been known as long as there have been bows and arrows," Dr. William Pasculle tells MSNBC. Your chance of infection is slim. U.S. doctors only see between 9,000 to 11,500 instances annually, and the disease is fatal in just 20 percent of cases. Basic hygiene practices — such as washing hands frequently and thoroughly cleaning injuries — can significantly reduce your risk of infection. In the case of Kuykendall, early detection likely saved her life, and doctors don't think she'll lose any limbs.

Sources: CBS News, CNN, The Daily Beast, MSNBCU.S. National Library of Medicine, Yahoo News

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