Six patients who were afflicted with a flesh-eating bacteria were treated in the past several weeks at an Omaha hospital, including at least one Iowan. The condition is very rare and is often deadly. The Iowa woman survived. Jane Bisenius is from Schaller and says she first saw the spot on her arm on April 12th.
“I noticed in the morning a little round, pinkish-red circle on my elbow, my left elbow,” Bisenius says. “On my way home, that red dot swelled up to an oval about the size of a cupped hand and it became very hot and painful, my arm did.” When that spot on her arm swelled to the size of a softball, Bisenius’ daughter, a doctor, told her to get to an emergency room right away.
Bisenius had surgery at a Spencer hospital and she seemed to be getting better for a while, but things quickly worsened. “We could see the redness spreading up and down the arm about an inch every 15 to 20 minutes,” she says.
That’s when Bisenius was airlifted to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. When she arrived, she had a temperature of 104-degrees and was extremely sick. Doctors say the cause of her condition was a staph infection. She spent eight days at the hospital, being treated in the hyperbaric oxygen unit.
She has recovered but will continue to receive physical therapy so she can regain the full use of her arm. Dr. Jeffery Sartin is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He says people shouldn’t panic, as this type of case usually only appears in the region two or three times a year.
“There are some stories that get in the news that are very dramatic and tragic, really, but these are very, very rare,” Dr. Sartin says. “There are a lot of bad things that can happen to you out there and there are probably others that are more likely that you should worry about.”
The affliction is called necrotizing fasciitis and it kills 30 to 40% of the people who become infected. Generally, he says, the flesh-eating bacteria does not spread from one person to another.
“In most cases, if somebody gets it and you’re in contact with them, you’re at no great risk,” Sartin says. “There are a few exceptions. For instance, if somebody has a staph infection, especially the resistant staph called MRSA, if you live in a household with that person, you are more likely to have MRSA on your body, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a bad skin infection.”
A Georgia woman who recently went zip-lining and landed in a river contracted a severe case of the disease. She had to have both hands and a leg amputated. The Nebraska Medical Center has the area’s only Level One hyperbaric oxygen unit.