LUMBERTON — The unsettling tale of a Lumberton grandmother becoming infected with a flesh-eating bacteria while on vacation on South Carolina’s coast has spread with virus-like intensity on the Internet.
But an unanswered question remains: Is a flesh-eating bacteria the culprit.
The medical drama was posted to Facebook Sunday, complete with photos of the 70-year-old woman’s badly infected leg. As of late Thursday afternoon it had been shared 101,098 times and had garnered 75,000 comments.
News media outlets from New York to South Carolina also have picked up the story and run with it. Newspaper articles and television segments began appearing shortly after the Facebook post hit the electronic ether.
The Lumberton woman’s granddaughter wrote in her Facebook post that the family was vacationing in Myrtle Beach when the grandmother suffered a small cut on her leg when it struck a balcony chair and then contracted the bacteria, known as necrotizing fasciitis, while wading in the ocean. The grandmother discovered blisters on her leg after she returned home Saturday. The lower half of her leg turned purple and the woman’s blood pressure dropped as the day progressed.
The grandmother was taken to Southeastern Regional Medical Center for treatement and then was airlifted to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, according to the granddaughter’s Facebook post and news reports.
“She’s now in ICU, heavily sedated, and on a breathing machine. However, she is stable!” the granddaughter, who has asked news media not to be identified, posted Sunday.
The city of Myrtle Beach responded to the family’s claims on the city’s Facebook page. City leaders said they are aware of the woman’s claim but could not definitively confirm she caught the flesh-eating bacteria while wading in the ocean.
“We have had no reports and no direct contact about any such issues. The city has been unable to confirm the location or date of any such incident. At this point, all we have is a Facebook post, with no confirmation,” city officials wrote.
“Our ocean water quality is tested twice weekly, with excellent results. If we can determine where such contact may have occurred, we can order additional water quality tests to determine whether any connection exists,” they added.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control released a statement regarding the potential case of flesh-eating bacteria in the Myrtle Beach area.
“DHEC is aware of the news reports of a potential case of necrotizing fasciitis in the Myrtle Beach area. It’s important to note that this type of condition is not necessarily associated with exposure to natural waters like oceans, lakes or rivers or poor water quality.” said Robert Yanity, with DHEC.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a bacterial skin infection that spreads quickly and kills the body’s soft tissue. Accurate diagnosis, prompt antibiotic treatment and surgery are important to stopping this infection, which can quickly kill.
“More than one type of bacterium can cause this rare disease, but group A strep is the most common cause of necrotizing fasciitis. Infections from group A strep bacteria are generally mild and are easily treated. But in cases of necrotizing fasciitis, bacteria can enter the body, usually through a wound, and spread rapidly along the thin sheets of tissue that surround muscles and organs, called fascia. This is why the illness is called necrotizing fasciitis,” Yanity said.
In 2016, 177 cases of necrotizing fasciitis Group A strep were reported in South Carolina, and for 2017, 146 cases have been reported to date, according to DHEC.
There are no numbers for North Carolina.
“Necrotizing fasciitis is not reportable in North Carolina,” said Kelly Haight, with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Communications.
The Robesonian attempted through Facebook to speak with members of the woman’s family but received no response. Her current condition was not available.
T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974.