- An Arizona woman was thought to have the flu when she first sought out medical treatment on January 11.
- After several days of severe pain, doctors realized she was suffering from necrotizing fasciitis, flesh-eating disease.
- So far, surgeons have removed more than 30% of her soft tissue to stop the infection.
Christin Lipinksi first received medical treatment for the flu on January 11. But after several days of increasingly severe pain, it was clear something else was wrong.
Lipinski was rushed to a trauma hospital, where it was discovered that a bacterial infection had turned into a life-threatening aggressive case of necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease, which causes soft tissue like skin, muscle, ligaments, blood vessels, and fat to die), according to local news reports.
She immediately was rushed into the first of what would be at least seven surgeries, according to a GoFundMe page raising money for treatment and recovery costs not covered by insurance. So far, doctors have removed more than 30% of her soft tissue to stop the spread of the infection.
She is now in critical but stable condition, according to the fundraising page.
Necrotizing fasciitis and influenza
The flu, caused by the influenza virus, cannot trigger flesh-eating disease, which is caused by infection with a number of different bacteria. According to the CDC, various types of bacteria can cause the infection, including group A Streptococcus bacteria, Klebsiella, Clostridium, E. Coli, Vibrio vulnificus, and others.
It’s possible that a case of the flu weakened Lipinski’s immune system to the point that she was more susceptible to a bacterial infection. People are most likely to get these infections if bacteria enters broken skin at the site of an open wound.
But it’s also possible that some of Lipinski’s initial infection symptoms were mistaken for flu symptoms. Some necrotizing fasciitis symptoms “may seem like another illness or injury,” according to the CDC. Along with severe pain or soreness, people can develop fever, chills, fatigue, and vomiting, all of which might be associated with the flu.
Necrotizing fasciitis is uncommon. One estimate says there are between 600 and 1200 cases from the most common cause, group A strep, each year – though the CDC reports that this is likely an underestimate. But these infections kill close to 30% of those infected. They needed to be treated urgently, with antibiotics to kill the bacteria and surgery to remove affected tissue and stop the spread.
“Christin faces a very long road to recovery ahead with numerous skin graft surgeries, reconstructive surgeries and physical therapy,” the GoFundMe page states. “We currently don’t know how long it will take for Christin to fully recover but she will most likely be hospitalized for several months before she can be safely discharged assuming there are no further complications.”