Chemotherapy, Weak Immune System, and the Flesh Eating Bacteria

A weakened immune system can make one more vulnerable to the bacteria that causes the flesh eating disease necrotising fasciitis. Here’s the story of a woman from Ireland who, while undergoing chemotherapy to treat her breast cancer got infected with the flesh eating bacteria and eventually succumbed to it.

Our condolences to her family and friends.

Woman died of devastating and rare flesh-eating disease
by LOUISE ROSEINGRAVE/Irish Times

A TIPPERARY woman died after developing a rare and devastating flesh-eating disease, an inquest into her death has been told.

Louise Keating (46), Ballylooby, Cahir, died at Cork University Hospital on March 23rd, 2010, having been admitted to her local hospital just two days earlier.

She developed the flesh-eating disease, necrotising fasciitis – a rare infection of the deeper layers of skin – due to a compromised immune system as a result of chemotherapy treatments.






The married woman had been diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2010 and had undergone three chemotherapy treatments when she presented to South Tipperary General Hospital on March 21st, 2010. She was weak and was suffering from pain in her hips.

She suffered an acute collapse on the ward and her condition deteriorated rapidly, leading doctors to believe she may have developed a blood clot or septicaemia.

She had a borderline low blood cell count on admittance.

She became critically unwell and medical staff set about securing a level-three intensive care unit bed for her. The following day, Ms Keating was transferred to Cork University Hospital, where her condition continued to deteriorate and she died on March 23rd.

The bacteria caused tissue damage that released toxins into her system, setting off a “cascade of damage to tissues”, according to Dr Isweri Pillay, consultant physician at South Tipperary General.

“In Louise Keating’s case, the infection was deep-seated and the appearance of it came late; even the day before, it was not there,” Dr Pillay said.

Dr Pillay told the inquest that necrotising fasciitis could not be treated with antibiotics and the affected flesh must be cut away.

“The only treatment is the removal of tissue, antibiotics don’t work as a definitive treatment.”

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster described the condition as rare and unusual, with a 25 per cent mortality rate, according to recent research findings. “This does not occur in the normal person, it’s on a background of people who are prone to infection, whose white cells cannot fight off the infection,” Dr Bolster said.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane returned a verdict of medical misadventure.