United States

Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills Virginia Resident

"It's not uncommon that someone would come into contact with it"

A Virginia resident has died after coming into contact with bacteria that eats flesh.

The person made contact with the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria in the health department's eastern region, said Katherine McCombs, a food-borne disease epidemiology program coordinator for the state. The health department's website shows that region includes Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

McCombs declined to say when the person came into contact with the Vibrio bacteria or died, citing privacy laws. It also was unclear how they came into contact with it. 

Symptoms of vibriosis, the illness caused by Vibrio infections, include "severe skin damage," vomiting and diarrhea, the health department's website says.

Every year, Virginia health officials are aware of about 60 cases, McCombs said.

"It's found in salt and brackish water all the time. It's not uncommon that someone would come into contact with it," she said.

Already this year, 23 cases have been reported in the state. That figure has held steady in recent years.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that vibriosis causes 80,000 illnesses in the United States each year. 

Vibrio infections are contracted in two ways: by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, and by getting seawater in a cut or wound.

About two-thirds of cases nationally are the result of eating contaminated food, the CDC says.

To avoid getting sick, don't go into the water with a cut, and consider not eating raw shellfish if your immune system is low, McCombs said. If you get cut in the water, wash the wound with soap and water right away.

Vibrio infections were most common in Virginia in the eastern portion of the state, data for 2016 shows.

Earlier this month, a 60-year-old man got a Vibrio infection after going on a crab-catching trip in New Jersey. He noticed a skin rash, then his legs started to swell and legions began appearing on his skin.

His first words after having his breathing tubes removed were, "Don't take my legs. Please, don't take my legs," Angel Perez's daughter told NBC.

Also this month, the health department in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, confirmed at least nine cases of Vibrio infections linked to consumption of fresh, unpasteurized crab meat from Venezuela.

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