AGONY: Rare flesh-eating disease attacks man's leg
IT SOUNDS like the premise of a horror movie: a flesh-eating virus fiercely and quickly eating away at its victim.
But for one Mount Chalmers man, that nightmare became a reality over nine weeks ago, when he noticed his leg slowly begin to melt away.
In early March, Layne Perkins noticed something was wrong with the bottom of his leg.
However, it wasn't until he went on holiday at Rainbow Beach at the end of the month that the symptoms suddenly "blew up" and he was left bed-ridden and unable to walk.
"It all started with a red rash on my foot that turned into a bit of a pimple," Mr Perkins said.
"Then a black spot came up and suddenly within 24 hours I had a half-inch hole eating away at my flesh.
"That's how aggressive it is. My leg was all eaten out.
"There's a massive big chunk of the bottom of my leg. It looks like I was bitten by a shark."
Mr Perkins was rushed to Gympie Hospital where doctors were left dumb-founded.
"I spent seven days in Gympie Hospital," he said.
"They couldn't find what it was. There were no surgeons there and they wouldn't transfer me to Wesley Hospital in Brisbane.
"I discharged myself and my wife picked me up.
"I laid in the back of the Landcruiser to Rockhampton and I was in agony the whole way home."
Mr Perkins went straight to Rockhampton's Mater Hospital and spent five days there, with doctors electing to perform a biopsy from a cut on the sole of his foot.
"They shook their heads and sent me straight to Brisbane," he said.
The results confirmed that Mr Perkins had an extremely rare disease called Legionnaire's disease, a severe form of pneumonia.
"The doctors were mystified because I didn't get pneumonia. I had weepy eyes but no pneumonia," he said.
The correlation between the disease and the rapid loss of flesh on Mr Perkins leg has left doctors stunned.
"I've had three or four different specialists in infectious disease in the private hospital coming in and shaking their head. They're never seen anything like it," he said.
"It was so quickly and fiercely eating the flesh away until they hit me with that many antibiotics to stop it.
"They're saying it's been caused by volcanic ash from America but I've never been to America and nobody from America has visited my place."
Mr Perkins had been recovering from a rare form of kidney cancer, RS3PE syndrome, when the disease began attacking his leg.
He believed the time he spent working with grinding discs or with potting mix whilst making a hydroponic system at home might have caused the disease, but he has not received any answers.
"I contacted Cr Neil Fisher and he has never heard of any complaints with potting mix," he said
Mr Perkins said after his battle with cancer and his current diagnosis, he was left wondering, "what is causing all these rare bugs that are attacking my body?"
Mr Perkins is currently at Wesley Hospital, having his leg bandaged every day and awaiting skin grafts to repair the damage done to his leg.
"It's tremendous what they've done. I thought I might lose my leg," he said.
"I'm uncomfortable and I'm always in pain. I had to be on nitrous because you couldn't even touch my whole leg, it was so bad.
"I lost 15kg in 12 days.
"At this stage I sit and wait for this leg to recover and hope someone can advise me where the origin of this bug first made contact with me."
Mr Perkins is slowly getting back on his feet and will receive skin grafts, which may take weeks to adhere.
Central Queensland Public Health Unit, Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service's Dr Gulam Khandaker said there have only been 28 reported cases of Legionella-related disease in the past 10 years.
There are more than 50 species of Legionella bacteria and most of the reported cases were Legionella longbeachae and Legionella pneumophila, with a handful that were unspecified.
"The CQ Public Health Unit has no previous record of Legionelle sainthelensi in Central Queensland," Dr Khandaker said.
"The first symptoms of Legionnaire's disease are non-specific flu-like symptoms including fever, headache and muscle aches.
"There may be a mild cough. Some people develop diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
"The illness usually progresses rapidly, and the chest infection symptoms become obvious with high fever, shortness of breath and chest pain typical symptoms."
Legionnaire's disease is uncommon in young people and extremely rare in children.
Those most at risk of serious illness are 50 years and over and with a weak immune system or an existing medical condition.
Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment and are particularly associated with water, thriving in warm water and warm damp places.
Legionella longbeachae are commonly found in soil, compost and potting mix and Legionella pneumnophila are found in bodies of water.
"When handling potting mixes and composts, always follow the manufacturer's instructions," Dr Khandaker said.
"Avoid inhaling airborne particles by keeping the mix moist and opening bagged mixes in a well-ventilated space.
"Try not to touch your face when handling garden mixes and always wash your hands, even if gloves have been worn."