A woman from Greater Taichung has warned the public of the risks of self-medication, citing her own case in which what she first thought was only a common cold turned out to be a case of rarely seen Lemierre’s syndrome, that ended up costing her more than two months in a hospital bed and very nearly her life.
The 26-year-old woman surnamed Chen (陳) first experienced symptoms of feverishness and a sore throat on Nov. 1 last year.
She took some shop-bought medicine because she assumed she was simply under the weather.
However, after three days she began to experience pain on the left side of her neck.The next day she had chest pains and had difficulty breathing, especially while walking.
When her father brought her in to the emergency department of Feng Yuan Hospital, she was in so much pain that she could not walk into the hospital unaided.
An emergency room check found that her heart rate was elevated to 120 beats per minute, she had a white blood count of 12,000 and her blood pressure was extremely low.
She was found to have bilateral pneumonia with complications of pleural empyema and acute respiratory failure, and she also showed signs of sepsis.
Doctors immediately sent Chen for more tests and she was diagnosed by the hospital’s infectious disease specialist, Wang Wei-yao (王唯堯), with Lemierre’s syndrome, a rare disease that mostly affects people aged between 15 and 24 who have otherwise healthy immune systems.
Chen slipped into a coma from which she did not wake until Nov. 15, when she was surprised to find herself in a hospital bed.
She was discharged after spending a further two months in the hospital, although at that time she still could not walk properly and had to undergo a course of physiotherapy.
Finally able to walk unaided, Chen on Thursday visited the doctors at the Feng Yuan Hospital to express gratitude for her recovery, adding that the experience was akin to a rebirth that had made her cherish her family and friends more.
Wang said that Lemierre’s syndrome occurs when anaerobic bacteria create a peritonsillar abscess near the jugular vein which may lead to a blood clot.
If treatment is not administered in time, the bacteria can spread, infecting the lungs, bones, liver and even the brain.
The disease’s incidence rate is about one per million and infections are not correlated with changing seasons or hereditary factors.
The disease is often misdiagnosed as lymphadenopathy, or lymph-node enlargement, in the neck or as a respiratory infection.
Huang Chien-wen (黃建文), one of the doctors who treated Chen, said that people who have a cold that just will not go away, or who have a fever lasting more than three days, or experience pains on both sides of the neck or in the chest, should see a doctor immediately.