After previously denying cases of flesh-eating bacteria, Campbell County Memorial Hospital officials announced Monday that medical testing has concluded three patients had it.
“Three weeks ago, the Campbell County Hospital District saw one patient with an infection which was later confirmed as a case of Strep A,” said Karen Clarke, spokeswoman for the Gillette-based hospital.
Normally, Streptococcus A produces milder symptoms like strep throat or a skin rash. But it can cause more severe problems, like flesh-eating bacteria, in certain but rare instances.
“Initial findings, three weeks ago, did not indicate the severe presentation of the disease,” Clarke said.
Further analysis concluded that three cases of invasive Strep A were seen at the hospital in the past three weeks, Clarke said.
Threat to public
Although Step A is common, its severe form of flesh-eating bacteria is rare. The public shouldn’t panic, the hospital said in statements released Friday and Monday.
There is no outbreak to the community, Clarke said.
Patients to Campbell County Memorial Hospital are safe, too, she said.
“The hospital follows very strict infection control protocols when dealing with patients, in disinfecting patient rooms and operating rooms,” Clarke said. “At no point were other patients at risk of contracting the invasive form of Strep A at the hospital, nor are they now. The safety and health of our patients is our No. 1 priority.”
Conditions of the three Campbell County patients, and whether anyone has died, have not been disclosed.
“Unless we have consent, we can’t disclose,” Clarke said.
The hospital’s attorney, Tom Lubnau, told hospital administrators it was against the law to discuss the cases with the media without family or patient permission.
“[The law] allows [public disclosure] if the family says to go ahead or consents that they can disclose medical conditions and why,” said Lubnau, who also is a state lawmaker. “And I advised them to do that. And that if you needed further information to contact the Wyoming Department of Health, who they reported fully to.”
But the Department of Health is not discussing specificities of the cases, either.
In fact, State Epidemiologist Tracy Murphy wasn’t ready to declare the cases were flesh-eating bacteria when he talked with the Star-Tribune on Monday.
“We are aware of the concern and we’ve seen some media reports on it and we’re currently working with the hospital to gather information on the possible cases,” Murphy said. “And we’ll look at that information and decide if they are indeed cases, is there a concern for public health and if anything should be done further.”
Murphy wasn’t aware of any other cases throughout Wyoming, but local hospitals and health departments do not have to report the condition to the state.
“We would be interested in cases if they appear to be epidemiologically linked,” he said, meaning cases associated to each other because they occurred in a close time period or place.
When Strep A occurs in a severe case, it can be life-threatening.
The bacteria get into parts of the body where bacteria are usually absent, such as blood or muscle. Flesh-eating bacteria destroy muscles, fat and skin tissue, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control.
About 20 percent of people with the flesh-eating symptoms die, the CDC states.
The flesh-eating form of the disease is sometimes transmitted by sores or breaks in the skin, when a person’s ability to fight it is decreased because of a weakened immune system or if they are elderly, said Clarke, the hospital spokeswoman.
The Associated Press reported several recent cases of flesh-eating bacteria in the United States.
A Georgia woman had both hands, her right foot and left leg amputated earlier this year after she contracted the bacteria.
Several other cases have been recently reported, including an inmate in Illinois who died earlier this month.
Campbell County Memorial Hospital is planning a meeting with the public to discuss the cases in coming days, although as of press time, no times had been confirmed.