By Debbie James

A farming couple whose teenage son was hospitalised following a serious reaction to the viral skin infection orf want more to be done to educate medical professionals about this condition.

Rhodri and Ffion Clwyd Edwards sought help from fellow farmers when their 15-year-old son’s condition baffled doctors at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Denbighshire.

Brychan contracted orf from pet lambs at Tywysog, the family sheep and beef farm at Henllan, Conwy; orf is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be passed from animals to humans.

This resulted in Brychan being hospitalised when the sore wound on his hand became infected and he developed the secondary infection Gionatti-Crosti syndrome.

What the family were not prepared for at the hospital was the lack of knowledge about orf.

As Brychan’s condition deteriorated – he developed hot and itchy hives which spread from his hands to his elbows, arms, knees, ankles and feet – they issued a plea on social media, seeking advice on treatment possibilities.

It was a race against time as he wasn’t responding to intravenous antibiotics and antihistamines.

To their amazement that appeal was shared 43,000 times, yielding 3,500 responses.

Among those was a comment from a nurse whose 13-year-old son had suffered from orf the previous week and had experienced a similar reaction.

Once she saw photographs of Brychan’s infection, she immediately informed the family that he could be reacting to one of the intravenous medications.

At this point, Brychan had not slept for 96 hours.

“He was lying in bed clenching his body, waiting for the next wave of pain and discomfort to hit, it was harrowing to watch,’’ says Ffion.

It was only when the antibiotic and antihistamine treatment was withdrawn that his condition began to improve; within 24 hours he was discharged from hospital to recover at home.

Brychan, who works on a dairy, beef and sheep farm at weekends, is now fit and well and was helping his brother to shear his own flock of Lleyn ewes five days after arriving home.

But his parents say they were taken aback by how little knowledge doctors had of orf in children, despite the hospital drawing patients from a large rural community.

“We need to raise awareness within the medical community about orf and the complications that can arise from these infections,’’ says Ffion.

Another issue which hampered Brychan’s diagnosis was accessing consultant dermatology expertise on a weekend, and a general shortage of skin experts in north Wales.

“It was nearly four days before Brychan was seen by a dermatologist because it was a bank holiday weekend. Had Brychan become unwell on a Monday, he may not have had to suffer for so long,’’ says Ffion.

But she expressed gratitude to the medical team.

“We felt safe and secure at the hospital throughout our stay, they are doing a tremendous job.’’

The family were overwhelmed by the response to the social media post and grateful to everyone who shared it and provided useful advice.

“I am a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife so I know of that caring family-orientated feeling within our farming community but the support we felt online took it to the next level, it was incredible,’’ she says.

“When all these thousands of messages started appearing on my phone I had been sat by Brychan’s hospital bed for three days and three nights, with no sleep, but I no longer felt alone.’’