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* Beauty queen's amputation is rare complication of septicemia

January 23, 2009 | 10:05 am


* Update: Mariana Bridi da Costa died on Jan. 24.

A Brazilian beauty queen underwent amputation of her hands and feet earlier this week, a rare and tragic consequence of a common infection.

The woman, Mariana Bridi da Costa, 20, was diagnosed with a bacterial infection that progressed to septicemia. Septicemia, which is also called bacteremia or sepsis, occurs when bacteria gets into the bloodstream. The illness is always serious and can become life-threatening very quickly. Septicemia can arise from any infection in the body, such as in the lungs, abdomen and urinary tract. News reports describe Bridi's case as a urinary tract infection caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This type of bacteria is usually contracted in the hospital.

Once bacteria enters the bloodstream, infection can wreak havoc. The patient often appears to have a severe case of the flu, according to information from the National Institutes of Health. A high fever, chills, rapid heart rate and rapid breathing are common. The patient can go into shock if not treated quickly, and the death rate can be as high as 50% depending on the type of bacteria. Patients are treated with antibiotics, fluids, blood pressure medication and sometimes blood products to prevent clotting.

Amputations of limbs are rare and most often occur in children and young people with septicemia because the infection causes clotting that then leads to tissue death.

Relatives of Bridi, who was a finalist to represent Brazil in the Miss World contest, emphasize that doctors are trying to save her life. A study published in September in the journal Pediatrics urges doctors not to withdraw life support in such severe cases of septicemia. The researchers studied children who underwent amputations because of meningococcal septicemia three to five years after their surgeries and found they were coping well and "had a good quality of life."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Octavio Bastos / EPA