Teenager Dies From Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria) Following Wisdom Teeth Removal

By on 4:19 PM

Necrotizing fasciitis, also known as the "flesh-eating bacteria," is a serious infection caused by group A Streptococcus, which is a "resident" bacteria found on the skin, oral cavity and throat. Group A Streptococcus infections can be non-serious and treated with antibiotics, but the flesh-eating fasciitis almost always ends with mortality. The bacteria usually enter the body through a break in the skin but this is not always the case.

In February 2014, an 18-year old high school student in Maine died of this bacterial infection after routine oral surgery. This is according to a report from the state Medical Examiner's Office, as was reported last week by a numerous publications including the Portland Press Herald. The young man had his wisdom teeth removed and died within just a few days of exhibiting first symptoms.

Roughly one in 20 patients who have oral surgery procedures will develop an infection caused by a variety of bacteria that are considered normal flora in the mouth and throat. Most of these dental infections are treatable with oral antibiotics. However, roughly three in 100,000 patients are hospitalized after oral surgery and survive after receiving medication and/or follow-up minor surgery.

Invasive streptococcal infection, particularly necrotizing fasciitis, is extremely rare to begin with and even more so in oral surgery patients. According to the Portland Press Herald report, Dr. Eric Geist, president of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, indicated this case was the first death caused by necrotizing fasciitis after oral surgery that he recalled in 30 years of practice.

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is the founder and president of Infection Control Consulting Services LLC (ICCS). Phenelle has more than 30 years' experience providing customized comprehensive infection control and prevention services to healthcare facilities nationwide. Her services focus on assisting hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dental office and oral surgery practices, doctor's offices, nursing homes and other organizations with implementing and maintaining an infection control program that: complies with The Joint Commission, AAAHC, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and other regulatory agencies; respond to situations of noncompliance; and improve the processes for reducing risk.