scorecardA young boy in Oregon died from flesh-eating bacteria after crashing his bike - here's what to look out for
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A young boy in Oregon died from flesh-eating bacteria after crashing his bike - here's what to look out for

A young boy in Oregon died from flesh-eating bacteria after crashing his bike - here's what to look out for
LifeScience3 min read

flesh eating bacteria

AP/UTMB-Galveston, Ashok K. Chopra, Ph.D., and Dr. Leon Bromberg

A scanning electron microscopic image shows WT (wild type) Aeromonas hydrophila strain SSU, bacteria responsible for a flesh-eating disease.

  • An 8-year-old boy in Oregon died from necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease, after being infected with bacteria in the aftermath of a bike crash.
  • He had received stitches for the wound but it wasn't until several days later that his parents noticed that his skin was discolored and he was in extreme pain.
  • The CDC says that after a wound, if someone has spreading discolored skin, fever, chills, or vomiting, they should immediately seek medical treatment.

An 8-year-old boy from Oregon named Liam Flanagan died on January 21 from a case of necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease, that he'd contracted after a bicycling accident.

It's a devastating story that shows just how dangerous these rare infections can be, and Flanagan's parents have expressed that they hope others will learn the signs of infection to look out for.

"We don't want any other parents to go through this," Liam's stepfather Scott Hinkle told the East Oregonian.

Liam crashed his bike on January 13. The incident caused the handlebar to slice through his jeans and into his thigh. He received seven stitches in the emergency room before being sent home, according to a GoFundMe crowdfunding page set up by the family, first for medical costs and now also for the memorial.

But several days later, when Flanagan was complaining of worsening pain, his parents looked at his thigh and noticed it was extremely discolored, purplish-red, and looked gangrenous. They sped to the emergency room, where doctors began an intense course of antibiotics and a series of at least four surgeries to try to remove infected tissue before it spread further. The condition causes soft tissue like skin, muscle, ligaments, blood vessels, and fat to die; the infection needs to be killed or cut away before it spreads further.

Unfortunately, they were unable to save his life.

Signs of necrotizing fasciitis

Despite appearing in several recent news reports, necrotizing fasciitis is extremely rare. But it is deadly, especially if not treated immediately.

Flesh-eating disease can be caused by an infection with a number of different bacteria, according to the CDC, including group A Streptococcus bacteria, Klebsiella, Clostridium, E. Coli, Vibrio vulnificus, and others.

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. 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.

In Liam's case, he was probably infected by bacteria in the soil when he crashed his bike.

It's impossible to say whether doctors could potentially have treated the infection if they noticed it sooner. His parents said he hadn't seemed to be in any more pain than anyone normally would be after having stitches until they noticed something was really wrong.

People are more susceptible to necrotizing fasciitis if the have a condition or illness that weakens their immune system, but either way, the bacteria usually causes infection at the site of a wound. Normally, the condition is accompanied by extreme pain that may start as soreness, like with a pulled muscle, but quickly becomes more severe. Spreading areas of discolored skin are a sign of the condition.

If any of these symptoms are present after a wound appears, or if you have fever, chills, or vomiting, the CDC advises seeing a doctor for treatment immediately.