- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

OCEAN PINES, Md. (AP) "Flesh-eating" bacteria have killed two Worcester County residents so far this year, health officials say.
An Ocean Pines man also survived an infection two years ago but had one leg amputated, said Dr. Debbie Goeller, the county's health officer.
Dr. Goeller declined to identify the two victims and sought to calm fears that there might be an outbreak of the bacteria.
"Two cases had the same type of bacteria, but they are separated by two years," Dr. Goeller said. "The two cases that are linked more closely in time, about one month apart, are caused by two entirely different bacteria.
"There does not appear to be any common link. We are a small community, and the public may be concerned, but they do not need to worry," Dr. Goeller said.
Necrotizing fasciitis, commonly referred to as "flesh-eating" bacteria because it can spread rapidly, is an infection in fatty tissues and muscles that can be caused by many types of bacteria, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.
There are about 500 to 1,500 cases of necrotizing fasciitis nationwide each year, according to the CDC.
The infection develops when bacteria enter the body, usually through a minor skin injury or abrasion. The bacteria grow and release toxins that kill tissue.
They also digest materials in the tissue that allow the bacteria to spread rapidly, often leading to respiratory failure, heart failure, low blood pressure and renal failure.
Infection may begin as a small, reddish, painful spot or blister on the skin that quickly changes to a painful bronzed or purplish patch that expands rapidly.
Other symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, dizziness, profound weakness and, finally, shock. Without treatment, it can quickly cause death.
High-risk groups, including the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, are more susceptible to the disease, but a predisposing condition is not required to develop necrotizing fasciitis.
Dr. Goeller said at least one of the three Worcester victims had significant risk factors. The bacteria are common, Dr. Goeller said, and affect people in differing ways.
"People carry these bacteria around and never get sick," she said.
The disease is not spread through casual contact or drinking water, Dr. Goeller said.
To prevent the spread of any bacteria, Dr. Goeller said people should wash their hands frequently and thoroughly and complete antibiotic treatments if prescribed.

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