Baltimore, Maryland — A man has died a “terrifying” death just days after contracting flesh-eating bacteria.
Within 24 hours of contact, he was vomiting and feeling extreme pain in his leg, and his kidneys were failing. Soon his leg was covered in ulcers and lesions, “like something out of a horror movie,” according to his widow.
At a hospital he was diagnosed with Vibrio vulnificus, a rare salt-water variant of necrotising fasciitis (NF), commonly called “flesh-eating bacteria.”
NF or “flesh-eating bacteria” is characterized by the sudden onset and rapid spread of symptoms including purple skin, severe pain, fever, and vomiting. The legs are among the most commonly affected areas. The infection typically enters the body through a break in the skin.
Michael Funk, 67, of Ocean City, Maryland, came in contact with the bacteria in the Atlantic Ocean at Maryland’s Assawoman Bay in early September after going into seawater with a cut on his leg. He was cleaning out crab-fishing pots and weatherizing his boat as he ended the summer season.
Immediately after diagnosis Funk was transported to the Shock Trauma Center, a facility at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Doctors amputated his leg to halt the spread of the disease, but to no avail. Funk died four days after his first contact with the bacteria.
Vibrio vulnificus occurs naturally in warm, brackish water. Marcia Funk, the victim’s widow, believes the state of Maryland has covered up information about the presence of the deadly bacteria because of the state’s economic dependence on tourism.
Mrs. Funk said,
“I really feel they kept it quiet because it’s a tourist resort,”
Maryland health authorities have thus far refused to comment on the case. However, they admit that they receive as many as 50 yearly reports of the presence of the bacteria each year, with some cases being fatal.
Florida’s page cautions,
“The bacterium can invade the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness with symptoms like fever, chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions.” It also warns, “Aggressive attention should be given to the wound site; for patients with wound infections, amputation of the infected limb is sometimes necessary.”
On a national level, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that Vibrio vulnificus thrives in salt water and can affect anyone who exposes a wound to seawater or who eats raw or underheated seafood from areas where the bacteria is present.
The CDC states,
“Most infections occur from May through October when water temperatures are warmer.”
About 80,000 people get some form of Vibrio vulnificus every year, usually from consuming shellfish, says the CDC. The typical symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea and not flesh-eating bacteria.
And the average healthy person need not be concerned. According to the CDC’s special “Necrotizing Fasciitis” Web page,
“If you’re healthy, have a strong immune system, and practice good hygiene and proper wound care, your chances of getting necrotizing fasciitis (‘flesh-eating’ bacteria) are extremely low.”