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Flesh-eating bacteria blamed for death of teen after oral surgery

Benjamin LaMontagne
Benjamin LaMontagne
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It's a parent's worst nightmare. Your teenager goes into get his wisdom teeth removed and he ends up with a flesh-eating bacteria that kills him.

On Monday, the Medical Examiner's Office in Maine listed the cause of Benjamin LaMontagne's death as cervical necrotizing fasciitis, a virulent infection that can quickly turn fatal.

LaMontagne, 18, died in February after routine oral surgery to have his wisdom teeth removed.

This is the same flesh-eating bacteria that Atlanta area woman Aimee Copeland contracted from a cut she got while zip lining into a river. The 24-year old's left leg was amputated, along with her other foot and both hands

The type of bacteria that caused the infection, called streptococcus A, is most commonly associated with strep throat, according to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation. Some strains can cause much more severe symptoms, especially if the bacteria can find a way in the body through an open cut. The bacteria rapidly reproduces and attacks the soft tissue surrounding muscles.

If it is not detected soon enough and treated with powerful intravenous antibiotics and surgery to remove the dead tissue, it can lead to toxic shock, organ failure and death.

LaMontagne planned to start college next fall. He started to experience symptoms of the infection after having four impacted wisdom teeth extracted on Feb. 19, 2014. The swelling on his left jaw got worse, spreading to his eyes and preventing him from eating and swallowing easily.

On Feb. 22, he was dizzy and weak. His mom found him breathing but not able to respond verbally. She called 911, but emergency personnel were unable to revive him.

About one in 20 people who have oral surgery experiences an infection of some kind, Dr. Thomas Dodson, professor and chair of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the University of Washington, told the Portland Press Herald.

Most of cases can be treated with oral antibiotics. Dodson said in 30 years of performing oral surgery, including tooth extractions, he has treated three cases of necrotizing fasciitis, and has advised colleagues on three cases, none of which have been fatal. Hospitalization is usually long and complicated.