Man dies from flesh-eating disease

A rare flesh-eating disease has claimed the life of a man in Britain. The 60 year old man Tony Williamson died days after a flesh-eating disease spread through his body from a small cut on the inside of his right arm.

Mr Williamson the owner of a removal firm in East Sussex, thought he had a stomach upset in the days leading up to his death and did not realise the cut was infected until he collapsed while working in the south of France.

At an inquest into his death East Sussex coroner Alan Craze recorded a verdict of accidental death and said the cause of death was "very, very rare" and he had only come across one other in his 10 years as a coroner.

Mr Williamson apparently collapsed while transporting furniture from a client's home in London and died on the 10th of July after suffering a heart attack in hospital.

A post-mortem examination revealed he died from necrotising fasciitis (NF) and blood poisoning but it remains unclear how or why Mr Williamson had contracted the disease.

Experts say some people, including those with diabetes or malignant tumours, were more susceptible than others - Mr Williamson had undergone surgery for lung cancer six months earlier.

Such infections are caused by bacteria penetrating deep layers of skin which cause severe inflammation which eats away at tissue and the first signs of illness will not necessarily be at the site of the infection.

NF has a mortality rate of 70% to 80% and only very early, aggressive treatment will save a patient.

Mr Williamson thought he had been suffering from a stomach bug and while the cut on his arm was noticed it was not until they arrived in Lyons on the 7th of July, when Mr Williamson was vomiting and slurring his words that his arm became inflamed.

On the 9th of July he collapsed in Cannes and was rushed to hospital - the chances of saving him would have been very slim.

Mr Williamson was described as "hardworking" but "stubborn", a smoker and drinker who always had to be coerced into receiving medical attention.

Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare bacterial infection that can destroy skin and the soft tissues beneath it, including fat and the tissue covering the muscles and because these tissues often die rapidly, a person with necrotizing fasciitis is sometimes said to be infected with "flesh-eating" bacteria.

Necrotizing fasciitis is very rare but serious and around 30% of people infected die from the disease even though they are in good health prior to the infection.

Those at increased risk of developing the infection are people with a weakened immune system or chronic health problems such as diabetes, cancer, or liver or kidney disease.

Also at risk are those with surgical wounds from operations such as an episiotomy or a hernia repair, or with recent chickenpox or other viral infections that cause a rash - steroid medicines too can lower the body's resistance to infection.

The most common cause is infection by the bacteria which cause infections such as 'strep throat' and impetigo and while the infections caused by these bacteria are mild, in rare cases the bacteria produce toxins that can damage the soft tissue below the skin and cause a more dangerous infection that can spread quickly along the tissue covering the muscle - the bacteria also can travel through the blood to the lungs and other organs.

The disease also may be caused if wounds are exposed to ocean water or contact raw saltwater fish or oysters and from handling sea animals such as crabs - these infections are more common in people who have chronic liver diseases such as cirrhosis.

A break in the skin allows bacteria to infect the soft tissue, in some cases, infection can also occur at the site of a muscle strain or bruise, even if there is no break in the skin.

It may not always be obvious where the infection started, because the bacteria may travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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