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Cases of flesh-eating bacteria may be on the rise in Hawaii

By Brenton Awa
Published On: Sep 26 2013 10:58:00 PM HST

Cases of flesh eating bacteria may be on the rise in Hawaii. KITV4's Brenton Awa has the story of one man who's recovering tonight after the disease killed tissue throughout his entire leg.

HILO, Hawaii -

Necrotizing fasciitis is a disease that quickly eats away at the layer between a persons skin and muscles and in some cases it can lead to death. Doctors on the Big Island say they've come across about six to seven patients with the flesh-eating bacteria in the past month.

One of those patients is Steve Johnson who recalled what led to him losing flesh from his leg.

"I spotted this lilikoi on the side of the road," laughed Johnson.

But it was no laughing matter at the time. Johnson says he was surprised and shocked at how quickly the bacteria spread. The 71-year-old from Kihei, Maui described it as a "very scary and emotional event." His doctor said if Johnson waited any longer to go to the hospital, his condition could have been a lot worse.

"He was actually touch and go for the first few days, we had him in the intensive care unit and these types of infections can just overwhelm the body," said Dr. Dan Hudak, who works at the Hilo Medical Center.

Johnson traveled to the Big Island to visit family and house sit for a friend. While there he decided to take a long bike ride. He came across a large lilikoi on the path and when he stopped to pick it up, he scraped his leg. Johnson was on his way to a hot spring at Ahalanui Park in Kapoho.

"It was bleeding a little bit so I had to clean that off," said Johnson.

But bacteria found its way into Johnson's body. It possibly happened when he went swimming with his open wound in the pond. Twenty-four hours later, he came down with a 104 degree fever and noticed a change of color throughout his leg.

"It was red and hot and what they call cellulitis," said Johnson.

Two days later, the condition of his leg worsened and his friends took him to the hospital.

"It was doing it's dirty work underneath all the time and they finally got me into surgery and fortunately they said I got there before it hit the muscle," said Johnson.

Doctors removed the dead skin and tissue before it was too late. Johnson will spend another week in the hospital before being let out. He's scheduled to have a skin graft on Friday.

Meanwhile, health officials warn that these cases happen and it's not just in the water. If you have a break in your skin, it can happen to you anywhere certain bacteria live. If your tissue gets infected, you should notice the pain and the affected area should feel soft.

"On the surface you don't see a lot but when you touch the wound or touch the area, it's so painful," said Dr. Sarah Park, Hawaii State Department of Health.
Cases of this flesh eating bacteria might not be as rare as we thought in the past.

"The prevalence of this necrotizing faciitis seems to be significantly increasing over the past few years," said Dr. Hudak.

"They say they've heard these stories before, in fact they say they've been doing about three to four of these per month," said Johnson.

A spokesperson for Hawaii County told KITV4 that it closed Ahalanui Park Thursday after hearing about this incident and it will work with the state to have water tests done.

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