Tiny insect bites on a foreign holiday left a woman with a flesh-eating bug that made her breast ROT.
Natalie Thomason, 48, went on a sunshine break to Egypt and came back with a disease that can bring on a swift agonising death.
She knew she had a few irritating mosquito bites and expected them to get better. But after she got home they suddenly turned nasty.
Terrified, she rushed to her GP and was eventually diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis -- known as flesh-eating bacteria syndrome.
Natalie, recovering at home yesterday, said: “It was eating my flesh and making it rot. Doctors warned me I could have to have my breast amputated. They told me if I’d waited just a few hours more before seeking medical help I could have died.
“The pain was indescribable. But most frightening was the speed the infection spread. One minute I was fine, the next I was in hospital fighting for my life. I really thought I was going to die. I couldn’t believe I could become so ill from a few mozzie bites.”
Natalie and her daughter Becky, 24, flew out to the Sharm el-Sheikh resort in March. Five days into their holiday the pair had a trip to Cairo. It was here that Natalie had the bites that nearly led to her death.
The divorced mum-of-three said: “I found two on my left breast. One was really near my nipple, another was on the upper part. A third was on the lower part of my left arm.
“Our bites were really itchy. It was baking hot and we thought the salt in the sea would be a healer. Doctors have since told me it was the worst thing I could have done.
“There are lots of bacteria in the sea and I came out covered in algae.” The bites seemed slightly soothed by the water but not for long. They never healed, even after mum and daughter returned to Britain. At the same time Natalie started feeling tired and unwell.
The full drama began about a month after the holiday ended when the two marks on her breast and one on her arm began to swell.
Natalie said: “At first they came up as a blister. It was strange. I expected them to get better. I was worried but I never thought for a minute it was a sign of anything serious.”
The next stage was rapid. In the space of a few hours the lumps grew larger and turned black. “It happened so fast. Within another hour they were oozing and smelt terrible. I now know that awful putrid smell was my own flesh rotting.”
Her son Laurie, 26, insisted she should go to her GP and ask to be seen – without an appointment. Natalie said: “I knew it wasn’t right so I just turned up at the surgery. As soon as he examined me he called a colleague to have a look.
“They both said I had to go straight to hospital. By now the lumps were large black weeping craters in my breast that were oozing pus. The rest of my breast was purple.
“My heart was pounding, I was sweating and I was shaking. Doctors at the hospital immediately put me on a drip. I’ve given birth to three kids but this pain was excruciating. I was given morphine.
“The bug was eating me alive. I could feel it burning into me, melting my flesh. I was hysterical, screaming in pain, begging them to just cut the black craters out.
“Finally I was wheeled into surgery where the lumps were cut out. Even doctors were horrified how large and deep they were.”
For five days Natalie was kept apart from other patients while a team ran tests to find out what was wrong with her.
Thankfully after a few days the antibiotics kicked in. Nurses had been regularly flushing the infections with strong disinfectants and the bites began to look like healing.
Natalie, from Northampton, was discharged but she was weak and bedridden and had to take five weeks off from her telecoms job.
She said: “Doctors believed the necrotising fasciitis bug entered me through the bite wounds when I went in the sea. It then multiplied until it exploded.”
There are purple scars on her breast but they should fade. Professor David Lalloo, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said of the case: “This is a rare occurrence but there is a risk of necrotising fasciitis infection with any open wound which is exposed to sea water or fresh water.”
The bug strikes 500 people per year in the UK. If the victims receive no treatment, three out of four of them die.
Natalie said: “It has aged me but I feel extraordinarily lucky that not only did I not lose my breast but that I’m alive.”