California Woman Almost Loses Part of Leg to 'Flesh-eating Bacteria': 'It Felt Like Someone Had Poured Acid on My Foot'

A "flesh-eating" bacteria hospitalized a California woman for days and left her with an infection which exposed her bone.

On 4 July, University Heights resident Noelle Guastucci's foot became covered in a rash, and swelled up so much she could barely make out her toes, she told Fox 5 San Diego. When she visited the emergency room medics diagnosed her with necrotizing fasciitis.

Guastucci told Fox 5 San Diego that doctors said she was facing a foot amputation, and could even have died if she had waited a few more hours to seek help.

The condition is known colloquially as "flesh-eating" bacteria, but the tissue isn't actually eaten away; it dies due to the infection. It is caused by more than one type of bug, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The A. Streptococcus group of bacteria is thought to be the most common cause.

The potentially deadly problem can develop if bacteria finds its way into the body from cuts, scrapes, burns, insect bites, puncture wounds and surgical wounds.

The symptoms overlap with other conditions and can be confused for flu or gastroenteritis. In the early stages, a sufferer can be hit with a high temperature, as well as severe pain that seems mismatched to the size of the injury. Hours or days later, the condition can cause the area to swell and fluid-filled blisters to form.

The person can also experience vomiting and diarrhea. If left untreated, the infection can cause sepsis and organ failure. Treatments include a combination of surgery to cut away the infected tissue—which can result in amputations—and a course of antibiotics

At first, Guastucci felt like she had an internal bruise, she told Fox 5 News. Gradually, her foot began to swell "aggressively."

Her foot became "excruciating" and she suffered 11 out of 10 on the pain scale. "It felt like someone had poured acid on my foot," she said.

Guastucci isn't sure where she picked up the infection. After being admitted on 4 July, she was still in hospital this on 16 July. Guastucci warned others to seek "immediate" attention if they experience similar symptoms.

To prevent skin infections, the CDC stresses wound care is important. If you suffer a cut, be sure to clean it with soap and water and cover open wounds with clean, dry bandages. Visit a doctor if your skin is punctured or deeply wounded. Those with wounds should steer clear of hot tubs, swimming pools, and natural bodies of water like the ocean, lakes and rivers.

Dr. Whitney High, professor of dermatology and pathology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told Newsweek necrotizing fasciitis is rare, with around 0.4 cases per 100,000 people per year.

"The infection spreads rapidly. If one is ever concerned an emergency department is the appropriate place to go," he said.

"It is not a disease for which you call a dermatologist and make an appointment weeks from now for evaluation. The infection spreads over hours to a day or two days. It is a disease that is treated with powerful antibiotics and surgery."

Dr. Adam Friedman, professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said those who are worried about developing the rare conditions should follow the same rules for more common skin infections.

He told Newsweek: "It's important to maintain a healthy skin barrier, which can be done by minimizing harsh soap use and applying moisturizer to damp skin, using sunscreen to exposed areas (as sunburns damage the integrity of our 'armor'), keep any open wounds covered (best way with a simple protectant like Vaseline and a band-aid conferring extra protection) and clean any fresh wounds appropriately."

Earlier this year, a Florida man was also hospitalized by the "flesh-eating" bacterial infection which he contracted on a fishing trip. Mike Walton from Ozona was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico when he was nicked by a hook. Walton was fishing with the Ozona Fish Camp group.

Eric McLendon, the owner of Ozona Fish Camp, told Newsweek at the time: "He is optimistic and looking forward to fishing again. He has been fishing his whole life here and fishes as often as possible. He would fish every day if time would allow."

This article has been updated with comment from Dr. Whitney High and Dr. Adam Friedman.