Man nearly loses leg to flesh-eating bacteria after bitten by relative

Donnie Adams said he was breaking up a family fight when a relative bit him. He has since recovered from the life-threatening infection.
Sejal Sharma
Dr Fritz Brink (left) and Donnie Adams (right)
Dr Fritz Brink (left) and Donnie Adams (right)

Image by HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital given to The Tampa Bay 

"I need to take you to the operating room," the doctor said to Donnie Adams when he visited the hospital three days after a relative had bitten him on the thigh.

A lot of things had changed over those three days. Adams had gone to a family gathering where a fight broke out between two of his relatives. He meddled and tried to break up the fight. Much to his surprise, he was bitten by one of his family members. The bite was fairly small, about the size of a quarter. He didn’t think much of it and went to the hospital for a tetanus shot and antibiotics on the same day.

But the medication didn’t help. Adams was in a lot of pain and wasn’t able to walk over the next few days. He felt something wasn’t right, so he went to the emergency room at HCA Florida Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, where doctors, as per several reports, told him that he needed to be taken for surgery immediately.

As per Adams’ surgeon, Fritz Brink, when he cut the wound open, he could see a layer of rotting flesh spread out from Adams’ knee to his groin. Brink took out almost 70% of the tissue at the front of Adams’ knee. Brink and his team also did a follow-up surgery to cut out some more infected flesh.

Man nearly loses leg to flesh-eating bacteria after bitten by relative
Adams' thigh after surgery

Necrotizing fasciitis – a flesh-eating bacteria

Most of the time, human bites are not dangerous. But Adams’ relative probably did not practice good oral hygiene. Doctors were able to narrow down the infection to necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly in the body and can, at times, be fatal. Accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment, and prompt surgery are important in stopping this infection, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One should see a doctor right away if their skin becomes red, warm, swollen, or very painful soon after an injury, which is exactly what happened to Adams. 

But the doctors at HCA Florida Northside Hospital said that they had never seen a case like Adams’, where the infection was the result of a human bite, as per a report by The Tampa Bay.

“A human bite is dirtier than a dog bite as far as the kinds of bacteria that grows,” said Dr. Brink. “Normal bacteria in an abnormal spot can be a real problem.”

Adams was lucky because if he had waited another day to come to the hospital, the flesh-eating bacteria might have spread to his abdomen and placed him at a high risk of sepsis shock, Dr. Brink explained.

When one looks at Adams’ leg, it seems like his injury is a result of his thigh coming under a six-wheeler truck and not that of a quarter-sized human bite.

Four months later, Adams’ wound is almost healed. Brink said because Adams was positive and followed a recommended diet, his wound was able to heal in half the expected time.