National Guard recruit battling flesh-eating bacteria after falling ill at basic training

The family of a 21-year-old California National Guard recruit is asking for prayers as he remains hospitalized for a flesh-eating bacteria infection he contracted after testing positive for a strain of strep while at basic training.

Dez Del Barba, who has already endured 14 surgeries including the amputation of his left leg, has been in the hospital since the beginning of February, his devastated family told WRBL. They said he first tested positive for Group A Streptococcus while at Fort Benning on Feb. 8. A public affairs officer told the news outlet that there had been four confirmed cases among basic training soldiers.

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Group A strep can cause many different infections, ranging from minor illnesses to deadly diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Patients may be diagnosed with strep throat, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, kidney disease or, as is the case with Del Barba, necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating bacteria.

The bacteria typically enters the body through cuts and scrapes, burns, insect bites, puncture wounds or surgical wounds. But according to the CDC, not all cases involve an injury that punctures the skin. Symptoms typically include a red or swollen area of the skin, severe pain, fever, ulcers, blisters, changes in colors of the skin, pus or oozing from infected areas, dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea or nausea. Patients require prompt treatment including antibiotics and surgery.

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Del Barba’s family alleges that he sought help during week six of basic training and complained of leg pain and a sore throat.  They told WRBL that he was given ibuprofen and throat lozenges after an initial test for strep came back negative, but that a 24-hour culture revealed he was positive for strep infection. They say several days passed for before he was taken to the hospital.

 A spokesman declined WRBL’s request to comment on the allegation, but later released a statement that in part said, “The safety and care of our soldiers and personnel at Fort Benning is our utmost concern. Sometimes the environment or high-risk training results in illness, injury or sadly, even death.”

The family alleges that Del Barba's care was delayed by several days.

The family alleges that Del Barba’s care was delayed by several days.
(Courtesy of Del Barba family.)

The “Dez’s Recovery Journey” Facebook page claims he was first taken to Piedmont Hospital in Columbus Georgia on Feb. 11 where he was placed in the intensive care unit. He was reportedly taken for emergency surgery before being transferred to the University of Alabama’s burn unit on Feb. 13. Surgeons amputated his left leg on Feb. 14, and he was flown to Brook Army Medical Center on Feb. 16.

“Here Dez will undergo weekly surgeries, skin grafts, reconstruction surgery, physical therapy and wound care,” the Facebook page said.

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Videos have shown him starting physical therapy, but a recent post said he had gone back into the ICU following a minor setback. Del Barba has received messages of support from the Oakland A’s and the LA Lakers.