Fourth Case of Flesh-Eating Disease in Georgia

Lake Sinclair man now fighting rare - yet increasingly alarming - disease.

Daryl Kirby | May 24, 2012

Just prior to one of the biggest boating and lake-destination weekends of the year, reports of another person fighting serious infection from a flesh-eating bacteria is not what folks want to hear.

A Lake Sinclair man is the fourth reported Georgia case in the past several weeks of necrotizing fasciitis, a serious infection often referred to as the flesh-eating disease. Although officials say the infection is very rare, the bacteria that causes the infection can be traced to warm water in rivers and lakes that is occasionally transmitted to people through cuts or open wounds. The tie to lakes and rivers has people especially spooked heading into this weekend. GON even received a call from a tournament angler who was concerned about fishing a bass tournament at Lake Sinclair this weekend.

The fourth reported Georgia case of necrotizing fasciitis started innocently enough. Paul Bales was standing in the water working on his dock at Lake Sinclair on May 1 when he cut his leg. His son Mike told Macon TV station WGXA it was a very small cut.

“Matter of fact, he just bandaged it up and then went and played golf for the next couple of days,” said Mike Bales.

On May 5, Paul Bales went to the hospital because of swelling and pain in the cut. Three weeks later doctors had to amputate his leg and are still battling the infection.

The first case of flesh-eating disease was the heart-wrenching case of a 24-year-old University of West Georgia student, Aimee Copeland, who cut her leg while zip-lining into the Tallapoosa River in Carroll County. Aimee remains in an Augusta hospital after having her leg, other foot and both hands amputated as doctors try to stop the spread of the infection in her body.

The second victim of the flesh-eating disease, Lana Kuykendall, 36, of South Carolina, noticed the infection on the back of her leg after giving birth to twins at Emory Hospital in Atlanta. She has had seven surgeries and remains in critical condition at a South Carolina hospital.

The third incidence in recent weeks occurred in Bartow County. Bobby Vaughn, a 33-year-old landscaper, cut his leg while working near Cartersville. Vaughn has been upgraded to good condition after doctors removed two pounds of infected tissue from his groin area.

There are approximately 650 to 800 cases of necrotizing fasciitis each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, neither the CDC nor the Georgia Department of Public Health tracks the numbers of cases in Georgia, so there was no comment on what seems like a frightening rash of cases here.

“The most commonly recognized way of getting this infection is through a cut, scrape or burn on the skin,” said the CDC’s Alison Patti.

However, she said some people may acquire the infection from blunt trauma—a severe bruise, and many patients do not report any preceding trauma or cuts.

“People should seek medical attention if they have signs of cellulitis or skin infection—localized area of redness, warmth, swelling and pain—particularly if the infection appears to be spreading or increasing. In many cases of necrotizing fasciitis, the pain and tenderness experienced by patients is out of proportion to the visible findings on the skin. Some individuals with necrotizing fasciitis may initially complain of pain or soreness, similar to that of a pulled muscle. Later in the illness the patient may develop fever and chills may be present. The redness of the skin rapidly spreads and the skin may become dusky, purplish, or dark in color,” Ms. Patti said.

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.