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Published On: Thu, Apr 25th, 2013

Hong Kong health officials investigate a case of flesh-eating disease due to Vibrio vulnificus

The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health announced today they are investigating a case of necrotising fasciitis  involving a 75-year-old man with multiple chronic illnesses.

Image/CDC

Image/CDC

According to the case, the man sustained injury to his left hand and developed chills as well as rigor on April 22. He attended the Accident and Emergency Department of United Christian Hospital the following day (April 23).

The clinical diagnosis was necrotising fasciitis and he is currently in the Intensive Care Unit in a critical condition.

His left hand tissue yielded Vibrio vulnificus, a type of bacteria causing necrotising fasciitis. Early reports from the investigation reveals the man’s left hand was pricked by a fish in a wet market on April 22.

The “flesh eating bacteria” is actually a relatively rare bacterial infection technically known as necrotizing fasciitis.

The most common organism that causes this devastating disease is Streptococcus pyogenes (group A strep), however other bacteria have been implicated (Clostridia, Vibrio, and in the case of Aimee Copeland, Aeromonas.).

It’s called “flesh eating bacteria” because of how it destroys the skin and soft tissue.

Vibrio vulnificus can cause wound or soft tissue infections. Like other necrotizing fasciitis, symptoms may include intense pain, redness, swelling and rapidly developing tissue destruction. Sometimes, the swelling starts at the site of minor injury such as a small cut or bruise, but in other cases there is no obvious source of infection. In persons with underlying medical conditions, especially liver disease, can cause bloodstream infections characterized by fever, chills, decreased blood pressure, blistering skin lesions, and often, death. In otherwise healthy persons, causes diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Immediate medical care in a hospital is often necessary.

Bloodstream infections in persons with liver disease are fatal approximately 50% of the time. Persons who recover suffer no long-term consequences.

The infection is diagnosed based on symptoms and how fast the infection progresses. It can also be cultured to identify the offending bacteria.

Typically, by the time a person is seen by their doctor they are very sick. This is a medical emergency that requires hospital admittance, high dose antibiotics and supportive care for organ failure and shock.

The CHP reminds the public to take heed of the following preventive measures:

  • Avoid foot or leg contact with dirty water when visiting wet markets;
  • Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to seawater or salty water;
  • Wounds should be thoroughly cleaned and properly covered; and
  • Wear thick rubber gloves when handling raw shellfish.

Patients should seek medical advice promptly if symptoms and signs of infection, such as increasing redness, pain and swelling, develop.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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