Henson became infected with an extremely rare bacterium called
Group A streptococcus in May 1990 that was discovered too late for
him to receive proper treatment. He died at 1:21 a.m. on Wednesday,
May 16, 1990, approximately 20 hours after checking himself into the
emergency room at New York Hospital, not realizing how sick he
A SPECIALIST TALKS ABOUT THE BAFFLING
INFECTION THAT FELLED HENSON
How can a healthy man
in his 50s succumb so abruptly to a
garden-variety illness like pneumonia? To
Dr. Edward Kaplan, an authority on
streptococcal infections, Jim Henson's death
was tragic but not unfamiliar. The organism
that killed Henson, Group A streptococcus
bacteria, is not rare, but it can
occasionally cause an overwhelming infection
that is unusually virulent. Studies suggest
a recent unexpected increase in serious
infections caused by the bacteria, which is
highly deceptive: Early on, Group A strep
can be mistaken for mere
before a victim has even sought treatment,
it may overwhelm the body with
kidney failure or
liver failure, A professor of
pediatrics at the University of Minnesota
and director there of the World Health
Organization Collaborating Center for
Reference and Research on Streptococci,
Kaplan, 54 (below), spoke about Group A
infections with correspondent Margaret
Just what is
Group A streptococcus?
It is one of an enormous variety of
streptococcal bacteria. Group A streptococci
cause a number of diseases, from mild ones
like impetigo to serious illnesses like
scarlet fever. It is almost always
strep throat, and it is the only
kind of streptococcus that causes
How is the
Group A bacteria contracted?
It is usually inhaled, but it can get
into the body through a cut or abrasion.
Once there, it likes to live in the
respiratory tract, especially in the throat.
How often is it
We don't know. We don't have exact
figures because doctors are not required to
report strep diseases. We know only that
Group A strep is a very rare cause of
pneumonia. Lately, however, there has been
evidence of a more virulent type, a meaner
bacteria. One of the first reports appeared
in the New England Journal of Medicine
last July. Of the 20 cases discussed, there
was a 30 percent mortality rate, which is
very high compared to most common forms of
pneumonia. But I don't want to be an
alarmist. This is a very rare disease.
What are the
They may be
flu-like or they may begin like a
quick onset of fever,
In those rare instances when the infection
becomes more serious, it may involve other
parts of the body within a day or so.
Patients may go into shock and
develop problems with
the lungs, kidneys and liver and infections
of the muscles. Once the bacteria
gets a toehold, therapy may become more
difficult even with large doses of
This bacteria seems a more virulent
one," says Kaplan, in his Minnesota
Since the first symptoms may be
relatively mild, when should one seek
medical care? It's true,
at first there may not
be much that distinguishes a Group A
infection from a bad case of the flu.
But people should use common sense.
If you suddenly become
very ill—high fever, sore throat—seek
What is the
First, to identify the infectious agent,
usually through a throat culture. If it is
Group A, an antibiotic, probably penicillin,
is prescribed. A patient who is only mildly
ill can expect to feel better in a few days.
The penicillin also reduces the risk of
rheumatic fever or other complications. With
the more serious Group A infection,
antibiotics are also used, often
intravenously, but other medical and
surgical therapies may be required.
especially vulnerable to strep?
Strep throat has been called an
occupational disease of schoolchildren.
If you went into any schoolroom in the
winter and did throat cultures, 5 percent to
20 percent of the children would have it,
with or without any symptoms. In the
past few decades parents may have become a
little complacent about strep throat because
there have been so few complications. But
these things tend to go in cycles, and
they're beginning to increase again despite
antibiotics. We don't know all the
"Legacy of a Gentle Genius" by Susan Schindehette, June 18, 1990
Group A Streptococcus
Group A Streptococcus comprises a number of
strains of bacteria that can produce a wide range of
illnesses. Some, like "strep throat" and impetigo, are quite
common and easily treated. Others, including those referred
to as invasive disease, are more rare and require immediate
Common Strep Illnesses
- "Strep throat," the most common illness caused by
this bacteria, is easily treated with a 10-day course of
conventional antibiotics, usually penicillin. If left
untreated or partially treated, however, it can be
followed by rheumatic fever, which may result in
permanent damage to the heart valves. Rheumatic fever,
currently a rare disease, may occur when patients do not
complete a full course of antibiotics to treat strep
- Impetigo is the second most frequent illness caused
by group A bacteria. This is a mild skin infection
accompanied by open, draining sores. Complications are
rare. It is easily treated with common antibiotics.
- Scarlet fever is characterized by a fever, sore
throat, red sandpaper-like rash and a red "strawberry"
tongue. It is caused by several different strains of the
streptococcal bacteria, all of which produce a toxin
that causes the characteristic red rash. It is treated
in the same manner as strep throat.
- Rare and more serious, glomerulonephritis is a
complication of streptococcal infections, usually strep
throat or impetigo. Antibiotic treatment of the original
infection does not necessarily prevent the condition,
which usually resolves itself.
Certain strains of group A bacteria can lead to several
forms of invasive disease, including pneumonia, meningitis,
infection of the bone and an illness resembling toxic shock
syndrome. Relatively uncommon, these streptococcal diseases
first caught the public's notice in the late 1980s, when
published reports in medical journals began to draw
attention to them. The death of Muppet creator Jim Henson in
1990 as a result of an aggressive strep infection brought
more visibility. In 1994, focus moved to the strain of group
A Streptococcus causing necrotizing fasciitis.
Necrotizing fasciitis is the medical term for a serious
skin and muscle infection caused by certain strains of group
A Streptococcus. These bacteria produce an enzyme
that destroys tissue. While it occurs in less than 10
percent of the patients who develop an invasive group A
infection, it can be fatal in 20 percent to 30 percent of
If necrotizing fasciitis does develop, it is usually in
the wake of a skin wound that has allowed the bacteria to
enter the body. The bacteria multiply in the wound and
produce a toxic substance that kills skin, muscle tissue and
the membrane covering the muscles. Not everyone infected
with the bacteria will become ill, although the reason for
this is unknown.
As is the case with other strains of group A
Streptococcus, those that cause necrotizing fasciitis
are treated with common antibiotics, although not
necessarily the same ones used to treat milder diseases.
Because of the extensive tissue damage associated with this
kind of infection, physicians sometimes combine a regimen of
antibiotics with the surgical removal of severely damaged
skin and muscle tissue.
Illinois Department of Public Health - Group A
I suspect the
flu is a chemical exposure that causes one's body to go autoimmune.
It would cause fever, and allow any bacteria to go wild as the BUTYL
chemical attacks one's liver and kidneys
I was wondering what Jim Henson was doing when 'flu symptoms'
and whether or not it was the BUTYL exposure that caused his death
Did he have blood in urine?
Were his red blood cells ragged and beat up?
a bad case of the flu
The flu is a chemical exposure, not a virus as is commonly thought
The Proper View of CFIDS, CFS, FM, ME
Our Nation has a Wrong
View of Health Care
the real health issue for vets, for VP, for Pres Gerald Ford
Not agent orange, but EGBE, the propellant
Pres Gerald Ford in 2006 ... too?
I spoke before Advisory Committee for Gulf War Vets