A British backpacker’s dream trip around Asia turned into a nightmare when he contracted a horrific flesh-eating bug that left him days from death.
Doctors said Ben Whiteside, from Belfast, almost lost his leg and would have died without treatment.
The 25-year-old was travelling through Asia with his girlfriend Anneka Shally, 24, when he grazed his left knee on a two-day trek over Tiger Leaping Gorge in China’s Yunnan Province.
He unknowingly became infected with necrotising fasciitis, a bacteria which eventually ate his flesh away to his bone.
Within a few days after the pair had travelled to Laos, Mr. Whiteside was vomiting and his leg had turned purple.
He was flown to a hospital in Bangkok, where doctors said the deadly infection had spread to his kidneys, and was eating away his leg and had severe blood poisoning.
He was immediately given antibiotics to quash the infection and was rushed for surgery to remove the dead tissue on his thigh.
He is now recovering in a hospital in Northern Ireland and hopes to be back home before Christmas.
And amazingly, Miss Shally says the terrifying experience will not stop the pair from travelling again.
Mr. Whiteside and Miss Shally, from Northampton, were travelling through Asia after spending the past three years teaching English in Hong Kong.
The two were on a two-day trek over Tiger Leaping Gorge in China’s Yunnan Province when Mr. Whiteside grazed his left knee. A few days later, while on a 14-hour bus ride to Laos, Whiteside began to complain that the pain in his knee was worsening.
They arrived in Luang Prabang, a town in the north of the country, and went to a doctor, who said the graze on his knee was infected and sent him home with antibiotics.
But the following day, he woke up vomiting and had a fever.
‘I don’t know exactly what his temperature was, as I had no thermometer, but he was boiling and very sweaty,’ said Miss Shally.
‘I left him to rest, but the day after he was still being sick. We thought he was reacting to the antibiotics.’
Mr. Whiteside’s wound had become infected with the flesh-eating bug necrotising fasciitis, which eventually ate away at his bone. He also had blood poisoning and the infection had spread to his kidneys. Doctors said if he hadn’t had surgery and antibiotics when he did, he would have been dead within days
The pair returned to the doctor, who assured them that the infection in the knee was ‘controlled’ and put the vomiting down to a separate episode of food poisoning.
They blamed a dodgy milkshake he had drank a few days ago and the following day he stopped being sick and started feeling a bit better.
Reassured, Miss Shally left him in bed and went off to explore for a few hours – but when she came back, his condition had deteriorated.
The top of his thigh had become swollen and he was feeling unwell again.
Worried, they went to a local hospital where doctors gave Mr. Whiteside an X-ray and vitamin supplements to deal with the vomiting.
‘We knew it was an infection and they just weren’t dealing with it. Nobody seemed to know what they were doing. It was terrifying,’ said Miss Shally.
They were forced to go back to their hostel but Whiteside woke up with excruciating pain during the night and told his girlfriend he could feel something on the back of his leg.
Shally said she shone her mobile phone torch onto the back of his leg and was horrified by what she saw.
After four days of being on antibiotics, Whitehead’s kidneys were clear and the blood poisoning had gone. After a further 13, he was well enough to be flown home.
‘The whole skin on that thigh was purple and black with this big bleeding wound in the middle. It was horrific,’ she said.
‘But I tried to keep calm, for Ben’s sake. It was the middle of the night, too – what could we do?’
Shally texted her cousin Siobhan Glavy, a doctor in Dublin, who told her he, had a nasty infection and needed intravenous antibiotics immediately.
A GoFundMe page to help with Ben’s medical costs has raised over £23,000 to date, as they did not have medical insurance.
What is Necrotising faciitis?
Necrotising faciitis is a rare but life-threatening infection affecting the deep layers of the skin.
It progresses quickly after being triggered by various types of bacteria, including group A streptococcus and staphylococcus.
Many infections are caused by organisms already residing on a person’s skin.
Group A streptococci is a bacteria commonly found in the throat and on the skin. The vast majority of infections are relatively mild illnesses, such as strep throat and impetigo.
Occasionally, however, the bacteria can become life-threatening if entering parts of the body where not usually found such as the blood, muscles or the lungs.
The bacteria is often spread through direct contact with the mucus of an infected person and through contact with infected skin wounds and sores.
Invasive group A streptococcal disease, which may occur when the bacteria gets past the body’s defences, is a severe and sometimes life-threatening infection in which the bacteria has invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle and fat tissue or the lungs.
Two of the most severe forms of invasive group A streptococcal disease are necrotising fasciitis and Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome (a rapidly progressing infection causing injury to the major organs).
The early signs and symptoms of necrotising fasciitis include fever, severe pain and swelling, and redness at the wound site.
The early symptoms of Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome may include fever, dizziness, confusion, low blood pressure, rash and abdominal pain.