'This is a real threat' - Survivor's warning after 12 die in strep outbreak
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A Colchester man treated for a rare bacterial infection is urging others to visit their doctor before it is too late after 12 people died in an outbreak of Strep A in Essex.
Stuart Pugh, 46, was told he was two days away from contracting deadly sepsis after a wound under his arm became infected.
The father-of-one's infection was caused when Staphylococcus aureas (Staph) bacteria on his skin started to produce a rare toxin.
And although the bacteria that caused his infection is different to that seen in the recent outbreak of invasive Group A streptococcal (iGAS) infection, Mr Pugh wants to warn people of the dangers of not seeing a doctor quickly enough after hearing the news that 12 people had died.
MORE: Everything we know so far about the Strep A outbreak in Essex
"This Strep A outbreak is a real threat. Had I not gone to the doctors when I did, two days later I would have been dead," he said.
"Everything they're saying on the news at the moment is what happened to me - although it's not the same infection - so I can't emphasise enough for people to take care and visit the doctors if something isn't right.
"I had that gut feeling. In November I'd come down with what I thought might be a cold or the flu - and despite having about five doses of antibiotics I still couldn't fight it off, which I thought was odd.
The 46-year-old added: "Then one day when I got home from work I wasn't able to move my arm above my head, my shirt had been rubbing against a lump I had under it.
"It started to get redder and redder and when it was at its worst it looked like it was eating my skin.
"So I went back to my GP who was amazing but she said it was full of poison and I needed to go to hospital.
"I was scared because I hadn't been in before - and they kept me in for much longer than I expected. They told me I'd developed PVL-SA (Panton-Valentine leukocidin Staphyloccus aureus) and that if I'd left it another two days it would have turned into sepsis.
"To put it bluntly, if I hadn't gone to see the doctor I wouldn't be here now.
"I want people to realise how serious these kinds of infections can become if you leave it and don't go to see the GP.
"I'm guilty of it too thinking 'oh I don't need to go' or not having time but if I hadn't in this case I would have died.
"The NHS were brilliant and I even wrote to Nick Hulme (Colchester Hospital's chief executive) to thank him for the treatment."
Public Health England officials also intervened in Mr Pugh's case - as they have in the recent outbreak - to stop his illness from spreading further.
What is PVL-SA?
Mr Pugh's infection is considered rare by experts - it was caused by the Panton-Valentine leukocidin toxin, which can kill white blood cells and cause damage to skin and deeper tissues.
Staphylococcus aureas (or SA) is a type of bacteria which commonly lives on healthy skin, according to the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD).
Around a third of healthy people carry it harmlessly, usually on moist surfaces such as the nostrils, armpits and groin.
PVL is produced by certain types of SA.
The risk of acquiring the PVL-SA infection is increased by:
- Close contact - playing contact sports such as rugby or skin-to-skin contact with an infected family member or friend
- Contaminated items - touching something which is contaminated with the bacteria, e.g. gym equipment, towels or razors
- Crowding - living in crowded conditions increases the chance of passing n the infection, e.g. military accommodation, prisons and boarding schools
- Cleanliness - an unclean environment will encourage the bacteria to spread
- Cuts and grazes - having a cut or graze will allow the bacteria to enter the body.
For more details about symptoms and how the infection is diagnosed, visit the BAD website.
How is it different to the infection which has spread across Essex?
Mr Pugh's infection was caused by a type of Staphylococcus aureas bacteria emitting toxins which entered the body through a wound, while the outbreak in Essex centres around Streptococcus bacteria getting into the body and causing serious or life-threatening conditions.
The invasive Group A streptococcal (iGAS) infection, which has affected people in areas such as Chelmsford, Maldon and Braintree and left 12 people dead, is caused by strains of the streptococcus pyogenes bacterium.
This can live on hands, or in the throat, for long enough to allow it to easily spread between people through sneezing, kissing or skin-on-skin contact.
Scarlet fever, strep throat and skin infections are among the mild illnesses caused by most infections.
It rarely infects healthy people, but if it does get into the body, causing serious or life-threatening conditions, it becomes known as iGAS.
How is the strep A outbreak in Essex being dealt with?
Efforts are being stepped up to contain the spread of iGAS in parts of Essex.
This week, the Mid Essex clinical commissioning group gave an update on their operation to stop it spreading at a board meeting.
They said 32 cases of the disease have been identified in the three areas specified above.
The majority of patients affected are older people receiving treatment for wounds, either in care homes, or in their own homes.
Public Health England confirmed no further cases have been identified so far and Suffolk organisations have not been alerted to any in the county.