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CASPER, Wyo. — A patient who died after being treated at a Gillette hospital for invasive Group A streptococcus had an underlying health condition that made the person more susceptible to illness, a Wyoming health official said Thursday.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Tracy Murphy declined to identify the specific condition. Several factors, including chronic illnesses and skin lesions, can leave a person at higher risk of infection.

In the case of the person who died, the condition wasn’t relevant to protecting public health, Murphy said.

The patient developed necrotizing fasciitis — an uncommon and potentially fatal disease that destroys muscle, fat and other tissue. A second person who had close contact with the patient was also treated for necrotizing fasciitis, which is sometimes referred to as flesh-eating bacteria.

Murphy would not specify the exact nature of the contact.

“It was much more than casual contact,” he said. “We are not talking about just working together, or classmates or visitation.”

Authorities have refused to say when the first person died or release information about the second person’s condition. They’ve declined to identify either patient, citing privacy concerns.

The patients were among three people with severe Group A strep infections who received treatment at Campbell County Memorial Hospital between mid-August and mid-September.

The third person’s infection did not result in necrotizing fasciitis. That patient’s condition was also unavailable.

Doctors usually treat necrotizing fasciitis with antibiotics and surgeries where they remove dead and infected tissue. Amputations are sometimes necessary.

Murphy declined to comment on how the Campbell County patients were treated, other than to say they received typical care.

Common bacteria

Group A strep infections are generally mild and result in illnesses like strep throat. Severe infection can occur when streptococcus gets into parts of the body where bacteria aren’t usually found, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Necrotizing fasciitis is a one form of the invasive disease.

Some subtypes of the bacteria are more prone to cause severe infections. But doctors haven’t determined whether that subtype existed with the Campbell County patients. The hospital has sent samples of the bacteria to a lab in Houston for more analysis.

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Authorities don’t know where the patients became infected, Murphy said.

“With the prevalence of the organisms just out on the community, and people carrying it, it’s almost impossible to nail down,” he said.

Health officials are confident the cases did not originate at the hospital. Speaking to reporters at a Wednesday press conference, Dr. Christopher Brown, the hospital’s infectious disease specialist, said the infections began while the patients were still in the community.

“The people came to the hospitals with infections,” he said.

Brown did not respond to an interview request made Thursday. However, video of the press conference was posted online.

The infections each occurred about 10 to 15 days apart, Brown told reporters.

While invasive Group A strep infections are uncommon, a handful of cases are reported annually in Wyoming. Seven cases from five counties have been reported so far this year, said state Surveillance Epidemiologist Emily Thorp. Seven cases were recorded in 2011.

Health care providers are required to report invasive Group A strep infections. But the state does not specifically track necrotizing fasciitis.

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