Vancouver firefighter lucky to survive bout with flesh-eating disease, says physician

An assistant fire chief with Vancouver Fire Rescue Services is recovering in a Hong Kong hospital after contracting an infection commonly known as flesh-eating disease, forcing the amputation of part of his leg during a family vacation. Monika Gul reports.

An infectious disease physician says the flesh-eating disease that recently forced the amputation of a Vancouver firefighter’s leg is among the “scariest” conditions he’s ever seen.

Firefighter Christopher Won is currently recovering in Hong Kong after contracting the infection while on vacation. His partner, Marie Hui, wrote on social media that Won “almost didn’t make it out of that operating theatre alive” during the doctor’s efforts to save him from the necrotizing fasciitis.

Phsyician Donald Vinh says necrotizing fasciitis is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria, which can lead to strep throat in some people and a deadly infection in others.

But Vinh says, as far as scientists can tell, it’s “kind of a random game” when it comes to which one a person will experience.

“It’s obviously host-related factors,” he said. “But the answer is, we don’t really know.”

Vinh says necrotizing fasciitis has a high mortality rate, even when the patient receives treatment.

“Necrotizing fasciitis is dramatic,” he said. “We teach every medical personnel to watch out for because it can cause, what we call, ‘a rapidly progressive skin and soft tissue infection.'”

He says one of the earliest signs of flesh-eating disease is if a limb is painful to a degree that’s disproportionately worse than any visual signs, such as redness. Vinh adds the flesh-eating infection can start within a minor cut or scrape, or follow a chickenpox infection, but sometimes there is no obvious wound or injury to the skin.

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