Woman deals with flesh-eating bacteria

Experts say recent cases don't mean disease on rise

Gloria Bussen
Gloria Bussen

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two recent cases have drawn attention to a flesh-eating bacteria infection, but experts don't think it's on the rise.

It can be contracted several different ways and the symptoms vary.

For Gainesville resident Gloria Bussen, it started with stomach pains and a swollen abdomen six weeks ago.

For the first three weeks, she was in a medically induced coma. After 15 surgeries, doctors told her family they think they've removed all of the damaged tissue.

She's now in an intensive care burn unit receiving skin grafts.

James and Joyce Brooker live in Crescent City but have spent the last month-and-a-half in Gainesville by their daughter's hospital bed at Shands Medical Center.

Bussen, 60, is battling necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh-eating bacteria.

"When we heard that she had it, it was frightening. It was very frightening, because it can kill you," Joyce said.

Bussen's stepmother said the 60-year-old went to Putnam Community Hospital six weeks ago because her abdomen swelled up. Doctors then rushed her to Shands.

"That night we got a phone call that she had to go into emergency surgery. Then they had to keep cutting away and cutting away, and they've cut from her naval all the way around to the buttocks, all the way down and down her leg," Joyce said.

Dr. Lennox Archibald, an infectious diseases physician, said it can be caused by Group A strep bacteria, the same germ that causes strep throat.

"It starts producing invasive factors that can invade the skin, and what happens is, you get a little scratch and the Group A strep gets into the tissues, and within hours you get full-blown infection cellulitis, which is deep infection of the skin, and you get necrosis, which means cell death," Archibald said.

Time is of the essence with this bacterial infection because if it's not caught and treated quickly, it can kill someone.

"An unusual spot or a bit of redness that's painful to seek medical attention as soon as possible, and the second thing that's the onus on the patient, but the onus is also on the physician to have the antennas up to think about it," Archibald said.

Doctors don't know how Bussen contracted the infection. Her family just remains optimistic that the worst is over.

"It's trying. You don't know if your child's going to live or die from one minute to the next," Joyce said. "At first we were really scared."

It will still be a long road to recovery for Bussen. Her parents say she will move to a rehab facility in the next few weeks once doctors complete the skin grafts. They already know she will have to learn to walk again.

Doctors say there's no real prevention for the disease, just remain vigilant, and if someone has an unusual sore or swollen spot, he or she should get it checked by a doctor as soon as possible.