In Brief

Woman Needed Arms, Legs Amputated After Giving Birth: What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis?

A woman in Canada developed a life-threatening infection shortly after giving birth that resulted in amputations of all four of her limbs.

The 33-year-old woman, Lindsey Hubley, was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, also known as "flesh-eating bacteria," just days after she gave birth at a hospital in Nova Scotia, according to the Canadian Press. She has spent the last seven months in the hospital, and required multiple surgeries, including amputations of her arms and legs, and a hysterectomy.

Necrotizing fasciitis is a serious bacterial infection that destroys skin and muscle tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Several types of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis, including group A Streptococcus (group A strep), Klebsiella, Clostridium, Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Most commnly, people get necrotizing fasciitis when the bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin, the CDC said. The bacteria can spread quickly once they enter the body, and symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis can start within hours of an injury. The skin may become red or purplish from the infection, and some people get ulcers, blisters or black spots on their skin, the CDC said.

The condition is treated with antibiotics, but many people also need immediate surgery to remove dead tissue and help stop the infection, the CDC said.

Being pregnant is known to increase a woman's risk of developing certain infections, in part due to changes in hormone levels and immune system function. But developing necrotizing fasciitis during or after pregnancy is still relatively rare. A 2014 review of more than 4 million pregnancy-related hospitalizations in Texas estimated that there are about four cases of pregnancy-related necrotizing fasciitis per 100,000 pregnancies per year in the United States. More than 80 percent of these necrotizing fasciitis cases occurred after birth (in the postpartum period), and more than 60 percent required treatment in the intensive care unit, the review said.

Hubley is now suing her hospital and several doctors involved in her care for alleged negligence, the Canadian Press said. The lawsuit alleges that, a few days after giving birth, Hubley went back to the hospital because she was experiencing stomach pains, but doctors thought the pain was due to constipation, and they sent her home.

"Our allegations are that had she been properly assessed when she presented at the hospital ... a substantial part of the damage, if not all of it, could have been prevented," Wagner, Hubley's lawyer, told the Canadian Press.

It's not clear how Hubley contracted the bacterial infection, but according to the lawsuit, she had a tear on her vagina after childbirth that required sutures, which could have contributed to the infection, the Canadian Press reported.

Hubley's famliy has created a GoFundMe page to raise money to help pay her medical expenses.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.