Maine health officials are investigating a cluster of serious bacterial illnesses among users of synthetic bath salts.
Four patients with a history of injecting the drug were sickened by the Group A streptococcal bacterium over the last several weeks, according to a health alert issued by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The common germ is responsible for strep throat and skin problems in its milder form but can also lead to life-threatening infections including the much-feared flesh-eating bacteria.
The first three cases arose in Aroostook County, followed by one in Penobscot County, said state epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears. The patients were between the ages of 23 and 37.
“Fortunately, they all survived,” he said. “It’s a pretty nasty infection.”
Two of the cases resulted in streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, which causes a rapid drop in blood pressure and can lead to organ failure. All of the patients were hospitalized, one required treatment in intensive care, and one developed necrotizing fasciitis, a condition that’s known as flesh-eating bacteria in its rare and most dangerous form.
The widely publicized infection ” most recently grabbing headlines after forcing Georgia woman Aimee Copeland to undergo multiple amputations ” destroys muscles, fat and skin tissue. The Maine patient, however, did not suffer the rapid, uncontrolled damage associated with flesh-eating bacteria, Sears said.
“This person, although having some tissue destruction, did not have the continuous, progressive problems we’ve seen described in other cases,” he said.
About a quarter of patients with necrotizing fasciitis die, while streptococcal toxic shock syndrome kills more than 35 percent of patients.
The Group A streptococcal bacterium is commonly found in the throat and on the skin, and people can carry it without experiencing symptoms or illness. It also causes cellulitis and impetigo, a highly contagious minor skin infection often caught by preschool-aged children.
Severe infections result when the otherwise tolerable bacterium infects blood and tissue. Healthy people can contract invasive forms of the disease, but those