In Australia, a woman became the third recorded individual to contract a bacteria species typically responsible for the lethal “blackleg” disease in livestock. Remarkably, she is the only one of the three to recover, as detailed in a recent case study.
Following a gardening session without gloves, the 48-year-old began feeling nauseated and vomited continuously for three days. Additionally, she suffered increasing pain in her lower right abdomen. A hospital visit revealed kidney and liver dysfunction, high levels of lactic acid suggestive of septic shock in her system, and she was also having diarrhea.
An initial CT scan of her abdomen showed no inflammation or infection, yet she was prescribed antibiotics as a safety measure. But five hours later, her pain escalated, prompting another CT scan, which identified inflammation in her large intestine and cecum. Two days afterward, it was discovered that Clostridium chauvoei, a lethal bacterial species, was the cause.
This bacterium typically resides as spores in the soil. When ingested or inhaled, these spores can enter the bloodstream and travel to muscle tissues. Their harmful effects, including toxins that annihilate blood cells and enzymes that dismantle DNA, become pronounced under reduced oxygen levels, like during physical exertion. In cattle, C. chauvoei’s primary host, this process results in the distinctive “blackleg” condition. It’s believed the woman contracted the bacteria from her gardening, especially since her hands had scratches from her cat.
To combat the infection, the medical team administered antibiotics and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), a treatment involving a pure oxygen environment under high pressure, halting bacterial growth. This helped her liver and kidneys to recover, and she was released from the hospital. Unfortunately, she was soon readmitted with recurring abdominal pain and diarrhea. Further scans disclosed her large intestine had developed necrotizing enterocolitis, leading to the surgical removal of a portion of it and the creation of a stoma.
Approximately two and a half weeks later, the woman’s health improved, and after three months, the stoma was successfully removed.
Two other recorded cases of humans contracting C. chauvoei resulted in fatalities. One had a compromised immune system, while the other suffered from an untreatable severe soft-tissue infection known as gas gangrene. The successful treatment of the Australian woman can likely be attributed to early antibiotic intervention, timely surgery, and her otherwise healthy state. The effectiveness of the HBOT in her recovery remains uncertain.