Rare flesh-eating bug strikes

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 08:58 27/01/2012

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A rare flesh-eating disease has been found in a Manawatu patient.

MidCentral District Health Board confirmed a patient had been treated for necrotising fasciitis, though few details were available.

It is understood the patient is still in Palmerston North Hospital and has had to be placed in an induced coma, but board spokesman Dennis Geddis said he was not able to release details on the matter.

"All we can confirm is we have had one case in the past three months.

"Other details about the patient regarding the timing and circumstances are confidential because they will breach privacy issues around that patient and lead to their identification," he said.

Necrotising fasciitis is a severe bacterial infection that results in the rapid destruction of soft tissue. Most severely affected people require extensive surgery and sometimes amputation of limbs to prevent the infection spreading.

Figures released by the board late last year showed that since 1990, 19 cases had been recorded in the MidCentral District Health Board area. Only two cases were reported in the six years from 1990 to 1996, but between 2000 and 2006 that figure had increased to 14.

An Otago University study and the first nationwide assessment of incidence rates was published in the international Journal of Infection late last year. It showed cases of the disease were rising at an alarming pace.

Incidents of necrotising fasciitis rose from fewer than 10 cases a year in New Zealand in 1990 to more than 70 cases a year in 2006. There were 812 cases of the disease between 1990 and 2006; of those 148 people died, giving a 21 per cent fatality rate.

Research showed the flesh-eating bacterium was getting to be as common as meningitis, which had a fatality rate of about 5 per cent.

Otago University researcher Dilip Das and Professor Michael Baker carried out New Zealand's only comprehensive study of the disease, commissioned by the Ministry of Health.

At the time, Prof Baker said the infection could be caused by a relatively minor wound. Health professionals warned anyone suffering severe local pain and fever following even a small skin wound should immediately see a doctor.

The pain was often caused by a rapid spread of the infection into deep soft tissue and was not always obvious from first inspection of the skin. Immediate treatment was vital to save lives.

If caught early, the disease was treatable with high doses of intravenous antibiotics.

The research found Maori and Pacific Island people were particularly vulnerable, as were older people, and males were more susceptible.

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Prof Baker said the rise in necrotising fasciitis was part of a worrying increase in serious infectious diseases in New Zealand.

- Manawatu Standard

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