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The Blink of an Eye: Read Teresa's Story
Robbinsville resident battles back against a fast-moving skin infection
Date: 8/1/2013

We’ve all experienced it: A minor irritation of the eye. Redness. Discomfort. Maybe some tearing. It’s just part of being human. 

Our first thought: “It’ll go away.” 

That’s exactly what Robbinsville resident Teresa Tilton thought when she got out of bed one Tuesday morning with a little redness and irritation in her right eye.

“I figured it was an eyelash or something. By that night it was still bothering me, so I put some warm compresses on it and went to bed,” she explains.

From Bad to Worse
The next morning, Teresa awoke to pulsating pain, redness and warmth across the right side of her face, around her eye and into her neck. In just 24 hours, her right eye was nearly swollen shut. 

Teresa, who has 13 years of first aid training as part of the National Ski Patrol, knew something was very wrong. “I know the signs of infection and at that point the best thing to do was go straight to the emergency room,” Teresa recalls.

When she arrived in RWJ Hamilton’s emergency department, she was immediately admitted. The staff recognized the severity of her condition and called on Seth Rosenbaum, MD, board certified in infectious disease.

“Teresa presented with periorbital cellulitis, which means a skin infection around the eye. Any cellulitis is a danger because these infections spread very rapidly and can extend to the blood or bone. Teresa’s case was particularly dangerous because it could affect the eye, nerves and vision,” he says.

A ‘Superbug?’
With its rapid advancement and location, Dr. Rosenbaum and his team were especially concerned her infection may be MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcal aureus, an antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus. This same “superbug” caused a disconcerting outbreak in Hamilton schools in October of 2012. 

A highly dangerous infection, MRSA can be contracted from the slightest touch of an infected object. Commonly picked up in places like gyms, locker rooms and skin-on-skin contact, MRSA is quick moving and difficult to fight. 

“Depending on its location, untreated MRSA can cause an abscess in the skin, bone infection, blood infection, loss of limb, and even death,” Dr. Rosenbaum explains.

Once she better understood her condition, Teresa was relieved she trusted her instinct to get immediate care at the hospital. “They told me if I’d waited just one more day to come in, I may have had some serious problems as a result of the infection,” says Teresa. “It is scary just how quickly these things can progress.”

For several days, Dr. Rosenbaum treated Teresa with an IV antibiotic with success against MRSA until the infection showed signs of retreat. When Teresa was released from the hospital, her treatment continued with at-home care for an additional two weeks. 

“I was so grateful to Dr. Rosenbaum and the staff at the hospital. They really monitored the infection very closely and communicated with me every step of the way. It was reassuring to have that kind of care,” says Teresa. 

Preventing the Spread
Skin infections can be highly contagious. MRSA, for example, can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, shared athletic equipment and common areas of touch, such as towels and benches. 

So, what can you do? RWJ Hamilton’s Director of Infection Prevention, Anne Dikon, RN, BSN, CIC, offers these tips to keep skin infections like MRSA from spreading:

  • Wash your hands frequently and tell family and friends to do the same
  • Keep all wounds bandaged and clean — always washing hands before and after a bandage change
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors
  • Wash and dry clothes and bed linens in the warmest temperatures recommended on the labels
  • Ask your doctor or nurse when you have questions about infection
  • If you have an infection, take antibiotics as prescribed and inform your healthcare providers 

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