A man crabbing in the Maurice River in South Jersey is suffering from a flesh-eating infection after what one health official described as a very rare reaction to a common bacteria.
Angel Perez, 60, is now fighting to keep all his limbs while in intensive care at a Camden hospital. Effects from the infection began taking hold after his July 2 crabbing trip, according to his daughter.
His first words after having his breathing tubes removed were, "Don't take my legs. Please, don't take my legs," his daughter Dilena said.
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She said he could lose his legs, an arm and fingertips if his condition doesn't improve.
Perez's scary medical battle began when he noticed a skin rash after crabbing in the Cumberland County river near Matt's Landing in Commercial Township.
Soon, his legs started to swell and lesions began appearing on his skin. The next day, July 3, he took two trips to local urgent care centers.
"It got worse. He started to swell up. You started seeing color change, blistering," his daughter said. "He was hallucinating at one point."
By July 4, he went to the hospital and was admitted to intensive care, diagnosed with a rare infection called vibrio necrotizing fasciitis.
Perez's severe reaction to the infection from a bacteria called vibrio vulnificus is extremely rare, according to Cumberland County health officer Megan Sheppard. It was likely caused by the bacteria entering his bloodstream through an open wound.
Vibrio vulnificus is common in New Jersey saltwater and brackish water, especially in the summer months, Sheppard said.
Most of the 80,000 cases of infection in the United States each year are caused by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, she said. Only about 205 of those cases develop from infections caused by the bacteria entering open flesh wounds, as is suspected in Perez's case.
"The immuno-compromised are typically more susceptible, " Sheppard said, adding that many cases involve vomiting and falling ill, but not the potential loss of limbs.
The small sandy stretch off Matt's Landing Road where Perez is believed to have been crabbing in the river has not been shut off to the public, as it is not an approved beach area anyway, Sheppard said.
Crabbing or fishing in the water increases the chances of a bacterial infection, compared to fishing from a boat or dock, she said.