Woman spent eight nights in isolation amid fears she had the PLAGUE

Woman whose face was ‘eaten away’ by mystery sores that doctors dismissed as ‘acne’ was isolated in hospital amid fears she had the PLAGUE

  • Rachel Star Withers suffered reactions all over her body that left her in agony   
  • Ms Withers claims she desperately pleaded to be taken seriously for a year
  • She was eventually diagnosed with an unidentifiable infection

A woman was isolated in hospital, feared to have the plague or leprosy, after being dismissed with acne for a year.

Rachel Star Withers, 33, from South Carolina, suffered reactions all over her body, including sores which bled and fell off, leaving holes in her face.

The video content producer claims doctors neglected her desperate pleas to take her bizarre symptoms seriously. 

After extensive tests, baffled doctors eventually rushed her to isolation, where she spent eight nights on IV drips and morphine for the pain.

But on discharge, they were only able to list an ‘infection’, possibly which she picked up while on a recent work trip in Asia, as the final diagnosis.

Rachel Star Withers, 33, from South Carolina, USA, suffered reactions all over her body, including sores which bled and fell off, leaving holes in her face

The sores on her face would bleed profusely and chunks of her face seemed to fall off. Pictured, the largest scar on Ms Withers face now

The video content producer claims doctors neglected her desperate pleas to take her bizarre symptoms seriously, but that the escalation was ‘hilarious’

In autumn 2017, Ms Withers first noticed her chest going bright red for up to 10 minutes before returning to normal.

‘In 2017 I noticed that my upper chest started randomly flushing bright red for about five to 10 minutes before dissipating,’ said Ms Withers.

‘I became constantly exhausted and eating was hard because everything made me sick. In total I lost 1st 7lb (9.5kg).’ 

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She developed lumps on her face which opened up like sores, but doctors insisted the symptoms were just cystic acne. 

Having had acne for many years, Ms Withers said she knew this wasn’t true.

She said: ‘I knew the painful deep bumps which felt like hard balls and opened into sores weren’t acne. I had been taking photos of my face getting worse, but doctors refused to look at my photos.

‘I asked all the doctors I saw to swab the sores on my face, but they refused, saying it wouldn’t matter. I was told it was cystic acne by one doctor and another told me I had cystic acne and inflammatory acne at the same time.’

Doctors only prescribed Ms Withers acne medication for months, which she continued to take despite the lumps on her face becoming incredibly painful. 

Ms Withers first started to notice random red flare-ups on her chest

Ms Withers was told she had both acne and a yeast infection, despite her persistently pleading doctors to take swabs of her skin

She said: ‘I took the prescribed acne medication, but it just got worse. I could feel deep in my face a throbbing pain. 

‘Slowly over a few days it would turn into a hard ball under my skin, then it would split open and become an open sore.

‘I felt embarrassed by my face because you can’t really cover open sores with makeup as that would make it worse. 

‘To most people it just looked like really bad acne, and that’s why doctors didn’t bother testing my skin. I didn’t have a fever which is a typical sign of infection.’

By spring 2018, she had an allergic skin reaction all over her body. She had never had any allergies before. 

Ms Withers said: ‘The hives hit in spring 2018 – I had never had hives before in my life or been allergic to anything. 

‘One night they hit over my whole body and it felt like I was being stabbed with needles all over.

‘It was so frustrating to develop all these new symptoms and I felt like no one was listening to me.’ 

The allergic reactions kept happening, although the reaction didn’t cause itching, but intense pain.

A few months after her first symptoms, Ms Withers started having an allergic skin reaction all over her body. They caused intense pain, like being stabbed, rather than itching

Ms Withers, pictured with her scars, claims to have seen at least ten doctors before she was hospitalised for the dramatic infection after a year of pain


Klebsiella infections refer to several different types of healthcare-associated infections that are all caused by the Klebsiella bacteria.

They can lead to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections and meningitis. 

Healthy people usually do not get Klebsiella infections. 

However, people who are hospitalized and receiving treatment for other conditions may be susceptible to these infections.

These infections are often treated with antibiotics, although some Klebsiella bacteria may be resistant to certain types of antibiotics.  

The signs and symptoms of Klebsiella infections vary since Klebsiella bacteria can cause several different types of conditions. 

For example community-acquired pneumonia is one common type of Klebsiella infection which can lead to lung damage and even death in severe cases. 

Early signs and symptoms of this condition include:

  • High fevers
  • Chills
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Cough with yellow and/or bloody mucus
  • Shortness of breath

Other common Klebsiella infections include bloodstream infections; wound or surgical site infections; and meningitis.

Source:  National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences 

Ms Withers had to pursue many doctors before tests were finally run in September 2018 after the sores on her face would bleed profusely and chunks of her face seemed to fall off.

She said: ‘At the end of September 2018, a doctor told me allergies were the cause for my skin, the hives and sickness. 

‘They said that in addition to the allergies I had a yeast overgrowth in my gut, even though no tests were done. 

‘The doctor said I had to start this diet to kill all the yeast, and I said I would go ahead with it only if she swabbed my face.

‘By this time the flushing of my chest had got worse and so heat from the shower or sweating would cause me to turn bright red everywhere. It turned red and would bubble up with lumps. 

‘By September it would make me fall to the ground until the pain had gone because it was so severe.’ 

She added: ‘A few days after they did the tests my doctor’s office called and told me I had an infection and needed to pick up antibiotics right away. 

‘I was on them for 10 days, but they didn’t help. The infection was Klebsiella Oxytoca, which doctors said I couldn’t have had. 

‘The day after I finished the antibiotics, I was driving home and my arm had been aching, but I noticed my tongue felt swollen. Then the right side of my face felt heavy and began to droop.

‘My parents took me to the hospital and a doctor told me he thought it was just pins and needles, but in reality what was happening was the infection had spread to my nervous system.

‘In following weeks, areas of my skin would die, and small holes started to open up on my face. I woke up not being able to feel a large portion of my right cheek.’

A doctor had forwarded blood tests from Ms Withers to the Infectious Diseases department at the hospital.

In October 2018, Ms Withers received a call from the Infectious Diseases department of the hospital telling her to get to the hospital immediately. 

For the next eight nights, Ms Withers was placed in isolation and placed on IV drips to rid her body of the infection which was spreading throughout her body.

‘Once there I was put on morphine… The room had a decontamination area outside and for two days it was mandatory for nurses to wear protective clothing.

‘I was supposed to have the infected parts of my face cut off for testing but while waiting for the plastic surgeon, the dead parts of my face and leg rotted off and scabbed over. New tissue began growing in the first few days.’

Ms Withers sent home and connected to IV drips twice a day for the following month.

Although doctors can’t be certain what infection Ms Withers had, it was suggested that she had picked up a bacterium, which isn’t found in America, while on a short trip to Asia a couple of weeks before her symptoms started. 

The closest thing to it was Klebsiella Oxytoca.

Ms Withers said she was put on IV drips and morphine while in hospital. Pictured, after the sores on her face fell off and her skin began to heal

Ms Withers, pictured now, has been left with facial scars, which she worries about when they ‘light up red’, along with her chest which sometimes still ‘turns red’ 

‘It shouldn’t have been possible for me to be infected with Klebsiella Oxytoca,’ said Ms Withers.

‘The Infectious Disease doctor thinks while traveling I picked up a rare strain of the bacteria from another country and it was mislabelled because it isn’t known in the US.

‘I didn’t fit any of the typical signs of an infection- no fever, I had it for a year, it spread really slow and I had the symptoms of many different diseases but tested negative for all of them.’ 

Other suggestions included leprosy and the plague because of Ms Wither’s bizarre symptoms.  

Ms Withers said: ‘My hospital discharge papers just have “infection” listed as my final diagnosis. None of it was scary, in a way it was all hilarious the way things kept escalating.

‘Before being admitted to hospital I saw 10 different doctors, and then once I was in the hospital, I had five doctors observing my case.

‘It was a necrotising soft-tissue infection, but other diagnoses were thrown around, including leprosy and even the plague.

‘I was left with some facial scars and I take nerve dulling medication to help me sleep. I still randomly turn red on my chest and the scars light up red.

‘The infection was in my spine, neck, nervous system, skin and blood. I say I’m okay, but I still sometimes worry I can feel it inside me. 

‘I am getting my physical energy back slower than I had planned, but I like to tell people that all this is my superhero origin story – or villain, time will tell.’ 

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