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Juneau man battles flesh-eating bacteria

Posted: July 4, 2012 - 12:02am

A Juneau man is in a Seattle hospital, struggling to fight off a flesh-eating bacteria that is threatening to cost him his arm.

Ruben Pereyra arrived at the Bartlett Regional Hospital emergency room on June 21, where doctors immediately ordered a medevac to Seattle’s Harborview Memorial Hospital.

He remains there, in satisfactory condition, a hospital spokesperson said Tuesday.

Pereyra’s wife, Ana Pereyra, said Tuesday evening that he was undergoing surgery, but wouldn’t know the outcome until later.

“He’s actually in surgery right now,” she said late Tuesday. “When he comes out we’ll see if he’s going to keep the arm or not,” she said.

Bartlett spokesman Jim Strader said the hospital takes the flesh-eating bacteria, known formally as necrotizing fasciitis, very seriously. It is thought to have a fatality rate of as high as 25 percent, he said.

“It’s pretty serious. Fortunately, it’s rare,” he said.

Strader said the disease was not confirmed in Juneau, but that the symptoms were consistent with necrotizing fasciitis. He’s been treated at Harborview since then.

Flesh-eating bacteria is a rare condition, and happens when the skin is somehow broken and a naturally occurring bacteria gets into the body.

“Any time you have any break in the skin — a cut, an insect bite, a scrape — any time the skin is compromised in an way,” the bacteria can get into the body, he said.

Ana Pereyra said that’s what happened in her husband’s case.

“It was a simple splinter in his hand,” she said.

The infection is difficult to transmit from one person to another, and would have to be done through open wounds of some sort, Strader said. Despite rumors in the community of additional cases, Strader said he knew of no other cases.

“I have no information about multiple cases of it,” he said.

The unusual disease has been in the national news lately as the case of 24-year-old Georgia college student Aimee Copeland captured attention as she battled the flesh-eating bacteria.

Copeland had one leg, the other foot and both hands amputated, but recently was able to leave the Augusta, Ga., hospital that saved her life.

Copeland reported that she’d contracted the bacteria after cutting open her calf in a fall.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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