ATLANTA (RNN) - A Cartersville, GA, man has become the third case of necrotizing fasciitis to make headlines in recent weeks, coming just after a 24-year-old Georgia woman lost her foot and both hands to the condition.
Bobby Vaughn, 32, is in Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta after receiving five surgeries to treat flesh-eating bacteria that attacked his groin. Vaughn works outside and said he was not feeling well one day, and went to his truck and began vomiting.
"It went from a little peanut to a grapefruit fast, whatever it was," he told WGCL-TV in Atlanta.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a serious and severe infection of the deeper layers of skin that spreads easily across and to the subcutaneous tissues. It is quick and progressive and destroys the tissue it attacks.
It can be caused by several types of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas, or MRSA.
Emory University physician Dr. Walter Ingram said he treats at least two patients per month for various strains of flesh-eating bacteria.
"Two bacteria are known to spread rapidly within hours - strep and clostridia. Those two strains of bacteria are very rapidly spreading, and in a matter of six to eight hours they can spread to an entire leg," said Ingram.
University of West Georgia student Aimee Copeland contracted the flesh-eating bacteria when a May 1 zip-line accident left her with a large gash in her leg.
After several surgeries, Copeland was taken off her ventilator last week, and is now breathing on her own with the help of an oxygen mask and a tracheostomy. She is awake and in good spirits, although she has lost both hands and her lower leg. Doctors have said her other foot will need amputation, as well.
Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, broke the news to Aimee that she would lose her hands, and she did not blanch.
"Let's do this," she told him.
Aimee Copeland was first treated for the cut in an Atlanta hospital, receiving 22 staples to close the wound. Three days later, she returned to the emergency room in severe pain.
Copeland was flown to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, GA, where she was treated for the flesh-eating bacteria caused by group A streptococcus. Group A also causes more benign conditions such as strep throat.
It is unknown whether she contracted the bacteria in the original accident or at the hospital where she received treatment, but the wound is believed to be the entry point.
New mom Lana Kyukendall of South Carolina has had seven surgeries to clear her system of the bacteria, but no amputations. She gave birth to twins on May 7 in Atlanta, but returned to a hospital near home a few days later after noticing a rapidly growing bruise.
"We don't know what the next day is going to bring, so we're just trusting the Lord," her brother Brian Swaffer told CNN on Sunday. "We're taking it one day at a time."
One in four people - about 1,800 - die from necrotizing fasciitis every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 11,500 contract the disease in a year. There are hundreds if not thousands of cases every year that don't make headlines.
However, some flesh eating bacteria have been observed with increasing frequency.
Medical professionals emphasize that the disease is serious and can be fatal.
If you have a cut or a bruise that is growing literally before your eyes, you need to seek medical attention immediately.
"It's life-threatening. It can kill you. If you find a wound that's not healing that has puss and is turning red around the edges and is getting infected, don't ignore it," Ingram said.
Quick medical attention is key, and can be the difference between life and death. Copeland's condition was not immediately recognized by care-givers, and she was initially sent home with pain medication.
Her father continues to be impressed and awed by her improving condition, and her will to recover, having been brought to tears by her matter-of-fact reaction to the impending loss of her hands.
"In all my 53 years of existence, I have never seen such a strong display of courage," he said. "Aimee shed no tears, she never batted an eyelash. I was crying because I am a proud father of an incredibly courageous young lady."
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