Woman, 33, contracts deadly flesh eating 'zombie' bacteria on her face after simply washing her hands using a public soap dispenser

February 21, 2019  23:30

A shocking warning has been issued after an American woman contracted deadly flesh eating bacteria after using a soap dispenser in a public toilet.

In January, Rachel Star Withers, 33, from South Carolina, suffered bleeding sores on her body after contracting Klebsiella oxytoca, a bacteria which is resistant to commonly used antibiotics.  

Typically, KO is found in human guts, where it remains harmless.

However, if the bacteria spreads outside the stomach to another victim it can attack their lungs, cause abdominal pain, and lead to pneumonia or urinary tract infections.

For those with a weakened immune system, it can can be deadly. 

The bacteria left Miss Withers with deep holes in her face, which continued to spread and worsen over time.

Miss Withers shared images of the damage done to her face after she contracted Klebsiella oxytoca. 

They show how the flesh eating bacteria slowly ate away at her cheek, resembling an acne like rash initially. 

The last picture shows the entire middle of her cheek completely scarred from the bacteria. 

As a result, a warning was issued to the millions of Australians who wash their hands every day using soap from wall-mounted dispensers in pubs, restaurants and hotels.  

The warning comes from leading cleaning expert Ralitsa Prodanova, who insists that unless soap dispensers are 'meticulously cleaned' when refilled, they can become breeding grounds for bacteria.

'You might presume that soap dispensers are "self cleaning", but even those containing the anti-bacterial agent triclosan have inherent risks,' she said. 

'My advice would be to take your own anti-bacterial hand wash with you when you're out and about to avoid any Klebsiella oxytoca encounter.'  

Professor Enzo Palombo, from Swinburne University's Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, confirmed the risks from bacteria in soap dispensers.

'Recent research from Australia showed that bacteria in hospitals are becoming increasingly tolerant to alcohol-based disinfectants,' he said. 

He also said there were a number of factors coming into play.

'First is the number of contaminating bacteria that we are exposed to,' he said.

'Second, we have an immune system which does a very good job at protecting us against invading bacteria.' 

The people most at risk of contracting the flesh eating bacteria are the elderly, the young, pregnant women and people with immune deficiencies. 

A test conducted by University of Arizona microbiologist Dr Charles Gerba found that 15 per cent of the 296 restaurant soap dispensers he studied tested positive for harmful bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant E. coli, salmonella – and the dreaded Klebsiella oxytoca. 

'Our research clearly shows that the presence of an antimicrobial agent is not a safeguard against the colonisation of bulk soap by bacteria,' Dr Gerba said. 

'Fast food and grocery stores are more likely to be contaminated than convenience stores.

'This may be because in the former, there is less maintenance and management oversight in the bathrooms, whereas convenience stores typically have small bathrooms that are cleaned frequently.' 

But it is not just public toilet soap dispensers that present a risk. 

And Ralitsa, a specialist with domestic services firm Fantastic Services, says you’re not safe in your own home either.

'Both home and business owners need to think about where the soap dispenser is in relation to your toilet,' she said. 

'These pathogenic microorganisms can make you unwell, but can also attach themselves to nearby surfaces, including soap dispensers, where they fester and multiply.'

Some of the other areas of the home commonly 'neglected' when it comes to cleaning are shower curtains, gaps between counters and ovens, salt and pepper shakers, remote controls, toothbrush holders and light switches.

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