Bacteria Staphylococcus Aureus may reach the bloodstream in the case of rupture of the skin, even by manipulating a pimple or putting on a piercing
After the Santo André mayor’s office confirmed on Monday (1) that the death of former president Lula’s grandson had not been caused by meningitis, as previously reported by Bartira Hospital at the time of his death, in early March, Folha de São Paulo newspaper published on Tuesday afternoon that the boy died due to a sepsis (generalized infection) caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
According to the newspaper, even though Arthur’s family did not confirm his cause of death, information provided by four infectious disease specialists who had access to details of the case and an unidentified person close to the family reported that this bacteria was indeed the true responsible for the boy’s death.
According to infectious disease specialist Monica Gomes da Silva, a consultant at the Brazilian Infectious Disease Society, the Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria is present in human skin. “The bacteria only causes problems when there is a rupture and it reaches the lower layers of the skin and the bloodstream,” she says.
“The characteristic of the Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria is to cause infectious metastasis in places far away from its entry point. The bacteria then spread through the body and may infect multiple places, such as the spinal cord, the heart, and fingers and toes.”
The bacteria is common in our bodies, and is usually present in the skin of our faces, but may cause big problems once it enters the bloodstream. Recent cases of people who lost the movements of their legs after a small infection in their noses raised a red flag for the health risks.
In Brasília, 20-year-old student Layane Dias became paraplegic after putting on a piercing. The infection spread through her bloodstream and damaged her spinal cord. A similar case happened to saleswoman Lilian Duarte, from Abaeté, Minas Gerais, who lost the movements of her legs after squeezing a pimple.
Layane Dias had already pierced her skin before after doing the perforation which caused her loss of movements. On the second time, however, there were severe complications. The young woman had an infection caused by the Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria which spread through her blood and eventually lodged itself on her spinal cord.
She says she became aware of the problem in early July last year, when a red “ball” appeared on the tip of her nose, followed by a fever and body aches. The student used ointments and simple medications to obtain some relief, but her health condition became worse, until, one month afterward, she lost all movements of her lower limbs.
In the case of the student, there was the aggravating factor that the piercing was made in her nose, an area in which the bacteria is usually present. Such infections are not rare, but if they are treated early they can be controlled without further consequences, as the doctor explains.
“As soon as we see patients with infections on their bodies we take into account the possibility of the bacteria having entered through skin lesions. People who pierce their bodies, for instance, not always take into account that this is an act of aggression. The gravity of that which happened to Layane is not common, but not impossible,” emphasizes doctor Monica Gomes da Silva.
Inflammation and sequels
Saleswoman Lilian Duarte, from Abaeté, Minas Gerais, underwent a similar situation two years ago. It started with an inflammation of her nose, the beginning of an abscess. She thought it was a common pimple and tried to pop it, but the inflammation only got worse, and eventually entered the bloodstream, lodging itself in the spinal cord.
“It was despairing, an immense pain, I went to a hospital because I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. The infection spread through five vertebrae. The pain was so bad I thought I was going to die, not even morphine could relieve it. I was operated by a team of doctors, and the neurosurgeon saved my life.”
The saleswoman says that after the surgery she had to wear a vest for six months. After a great deal of physical therapy, she was able to recover the movement in her legs. “I’ve learned in the hard way that you should never pop a pimple, always wash your hands and disinfect them with alcohol sanitizers because bacteria are in our bodies, and when we least expect it they can get inside us, especially through the nose,” she says.
Lilian Duarte is able to walk again, but still has sequels: “I feel numbness and pins and needles in my feet. I used to feel it from the knee down, but now it has gotten better. Somedays I can’t even feel my feet. I hope one day I’ll get fully recovered.”
Even if more severe cases might happen, there is no need for panic, according to the doctors. There is no vaccine to prevent against this bacteria, but simple measures may reduce the possibility of it entering the organism: always wash your hands, especially if there are skin lesions, and wash the lesion itself with water and soap.