The death in Christchurch yesterday of a woman from necrotising fasciitis, commonly known as ‘flesh eating disease’, has
raised public concern as to whether the disease is treatable.
Internationally, hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBO2) is recognised as a successful treatment for a wide range of soft
tissue infections—including ‘flesh eating disease’. (Undersea Hyperbaric Medical Society--UHMS)
In association with other treatments HBO2 can achieve dramatic results, according to Peter Young , the managing director
of Auckland-based The Oxygen Centre.
“Oxygen in the treatment of necrotising fasciitis produces a number of benefits. First, elevated oxygen levels are
highly toxic to the bacteria present.
“Second, the increase in oxygen supply works to enhance the effects of antibiotics.
“Third, once the infection and disease has been contained, HBO2 significantly enhances the rate of healing,” he said.
The UHMS stresses “when morbidity and mortality are high, adjunct HBO2 may be both life saving and cost saving.”
According to Peter Young, it is important the public realises contracting the disease is not a guaranteed ‘death
“The death yesterday of the woman in Christchurch is a tragedy and my thoughts and sympathies are with everyone who was
involved in the case who I’m confident helped in every way possible.
“It would be a greater tragedy, however, if the public were not aware that there is an internationally-recognised, and
medically-proven, treatment available to them that works,” he said.
As with all medical treatments, says Peter Young, the earlier they are administered the more effective they are.
Even in advanced, and seemingly untreatable conditions, the inclusion of HBO2 has produced results. Including, says
Young, one case where The Oxygen Centre was directly involved.
According to Young, the patient being treated initially had a splinter enter his hand while removing carpet. The
splinter was removed, traditional wound care was administered but his condition worsened. He was administered to
hospital and ‘flesh eating disease’ was diagnosed.
After multiple operations to try and contain the disease from spreading, and being in hospital for over 7 ½ weeks, the
patient’s condition continued to worsen and become life-threatening.
“We were approached,” says Peter Young, “to see if we could help. Fortunately we could.
“After a series of treatments in the Centre’s HBO2 Chamber, control of the disease was achieved. The man is currently
continuing treatment to assist in his ongoing healing. Most importantly, he is recovering well,” he said.
The Oxygen Centre is New Zealand’s first private specialist facility providing internationally-recognised oxygen-based
treatment regimes, for both healing (HBO2) and for athletic training and conditioning (IHT).
HBO2 is generally administered in either a single-person chamber or, as at the centre, in a large steel treatment
chamber pressurised by compressed air which can seat up to six people plus trained staff administering the treatment.
Each treatment lasts from between 90-120 minutes.
The combination of breathing pure oxygen, and the increased pressure (usually 2 atmospheres absolute pressure, not
unlike when diving) causes the oxygen pressure in the body to be substantially increased. The result is that oxygen
reaches starved body tissues at a high enough pressure to allow natural healing to start, or be enhanced, in a wide
range of conditions.
The centre operates in accordance with the recommendations of the recently produced Australian Hyperbaric Oxygen
Treatment Facility Industry Guidelines (HOTFIG). Treatment is administered as part of an overall patient care plan, in
cooperation with the patient’s physicians and specialists, and is only given if medical opinion is that real measurable
benefit is likely to be obtained.