News

Sixth person in county this year dies from rare infection

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

The death of a woman who died at a Federal Way hospital last week has been attributed to so-called flesh-eating bacteria.

The King County medical examiner disclosed the cause of Julie Tietel’s death. Tietel, 52, was a Tacoma resident, but she’s at least the sixth person this year and 24th since the start of 2005 to have died in King County from necrotizing fasciitis.

She reportedly became infected on or about March 7 and died March 9. After she became ill, she reportedly was admitted to St. Francis Hospital.

The medical examiner confirmed Tietel died at St. Francis from a rare bacterial infection called necrotizing fasciitis, often referred to as flesh-eating bacteria because of the effect it has on body tissues. Because of patient-privacy laws, other information related to her condition or treatment before she died couldn’t be released by the hospital or the medical examiner.

According to the Seattle-King County Public Health Department, necrotizing fasciitis is rare and most commonly caused by a mixture of bacteria that thrive in wounds. After getting into thin membranes that connect skin and underlying muscle tissues, the infection can quickly become deadly as the bacteria destroy tissues and spread rapidly through the body.

Last year, the medical examiner recorded 18 deaths from necrotizing fasciitis. Not everyone was a King County resident; 10 were from outside the county. They went to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to receive specialized treatment before dying.

Six deaths have been reported by the medical examiner this year between Feb. 10 and March 15, according to James Apa, a Health Department spokesman. Four of the victims were King County residents. No indication was available whether other deaths this year occurred before that period. Apa said there could be other fatalities that weren’t reported to or investigated by the medical examiner.

While cases of necrotizing fasciitis are rare in King County, an undisclosed number of cases have been treated at Harborview at least as late as 2003 or 2004, the Health Department has reported. Most cases happened among people using syringes to inject themselves with drugs, according to the department.

Apa said the total number of cases treated at Harborview may be unknown or not readily available because necrotizing fasciitis isn’t considered a communicable disease and isn’t subject to mandatory reporting of cases to help stop any spread of the illness.

Nationally, people have contracted necrotizing fasciitis after –– among other reasons –– abdominal surgery, scratching a rash or suffering a small cut, and for no apparent trauma at all, according to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation. It also can occur in people of any age and whether they’re healthy or not, the foundation reported on its Web site, adding that while death “is not uncommon” in cases, many people survive.

St. Francis is part of Tacoma-based Franciscan Health System. A spokesman for Franciscan, Gale Robinette, couldn’t disclose any information on Tietel. Other than the cause of death being confirmed by the medical examiner, information about the woman in news reports has been provided by her family, Robinette said. The Mirror hasn’t been in contact with the family.

Franciscan did issue a formal statement on the matter, stating, “Federal patient-privacy laws prohibit us from publicly disclosing the personal health information of individual patients. To this patient’s family and friends, however, we express our deepest sympathy. They have lost a loved one and our heart goes out to them. We strive to provide the best medical care possible to every ill and injured person who turns to us for assistance.”

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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