Sepsis Threatens Brazilian Model's Life

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Updated: 8/22 4:08 pm

[Editor's note: Brazilian model Mariana Bridi da Costa died Jan. 24, 2009.]

Jan. 23, 2009 -- Mariana Bridi da Costa, a 20-year-old Brazilian model who has participated in international beauty competitions, is in a hospital in Brazil with a life-threatening infection.

Bridi da Costa, a past finalist in the Miss World Brazil competitions, has a severe blood infection called sepsis (also known as septicemia) that began when she had a urinary tract infection, according to Bridi da Costa's web site. Because of her illness, Bridi da Costa had to have her stomach removed and her feet and hands amputated.

Doctors originally thought Bridi da Costa had kidney stones; instead, she had a urinary tract infection caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, according to media reports. The infection then spread to her blood.

Bridi da Costa's case is a "terrible situation," but pseudomonas infection causing a urinary tract infection is "exceedingly rare" in young, healthy people in the U.S., says Michael Phillips, MD, a hospital epidemiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

Pseudomonas bacteria are present in the U.S., but they don't cause most urinary tract infections. Another bacterium, E. coli, is the leading cause of U.S. urinary tract infections.

Phillips, who isn't treating Bridi da Costa, says that because urinary tract infections caused by pseudomonas bacteria are so rare in healthy, young U.S. adults, there aren't special steps to take to prevent those infections. Phillips encourages patients to see a doctor if they have urinary tract infections and says doctors should take a culture to check the cause of any unusual or persistent urinary tract infections. "Then you can identify the bug and then you're sure that you're on the right antibiotics," Phillips says.

If Bridi da Costa's infection had been diagnosed earlier, it might have made a difference. "That's true with any infection," Phillips says.

Pseudomonas infection doesn't always prompt dramatic illness right away, but it can progress quickly. And pseudomonas bacteria aren't the only bacteria that can lead to sepsis if untreated.

"A wide array of bacteria, once in the bloodstream, can cause what's happened to this young lady," Gordon Dickinson, MD, chief of adult infectious disease at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the Miami VA Hospital, tells WebMD. Like Phillips, Dickinson says cases like Bridi da Costa's are very rare and that during his career, he's seen "maybe a handful of patients out of the blue with serious pseudomonas infection ... come to the hospital."

Pseudomonas bacteria could travel up through the urinary tract to the kidneys, and then get into the blood and lead to sepsis. Treatment might wipe out or suppress the bacteria, but "the body is so heavily inflamed at that point" and that inflammation can damage the body, says Phillips.

Bridi da Costa's stomach was surgically removed because of internal bleeding. The reason for that internal bleeding isn't clear from her web site. As for her amputations, sepsis can prompt blood vessels in the hands and feet to shut down, leading to tissue death that requires amputation. Sepsis can also cause organs to shut down.

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