On September 11, when Michael Funk was cleaning his crab pot, little could he imagine that he would be dead in just four days out of a flesh-eating bacteria which came in contact with a cut he had on his leg.

The bacteria he got is the Vibrio Vulnificus, more commonly known as a flesh-eating bacteria. At least 80.000 cases of Vibrio are registered every year in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some of these cases can lead to death; however, generally the worst symptoms include only diarrhea and vomits. Unfortunately, Funk was not so lucky this time.

Marcia Funk of Ocean City watched her husband die in four days after he contracted a flesh-eating bacteria near their 94th Street home. Image Credit: USA Today

“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,” according to the page of the Florida Department of Health.

Something out of a terror movie

Vibrio Vulnificus is a motile, curved, rod-shaped (bacillus), pathogenic bacteria. Present in estuaries, brackish and coastal areas. It is related to the Vibrio cholerae –which causes cholera – its infection is associated with liver disease.

The most common way of getting this bacteria is from eating raw or undercooked shellfish. However, this time Funk got it by cleaning the crab pot on his condo in Ocean City – something he was used to doing – just before returning with his wife to his home in Phoenix, Arizona, where the victim was from.

However, through a tiny wound he had on his leg, he got infected. Hours later Funk started to feel ill, and he was taken to the hospital, but the treatment available there and in Baltimore –where he was taken later as he was not improving – were not enough to save his life. And four days after the infection he was death, on September 15.

The infection moves quickly and in an aggressive way. The doctors diagnosed vibriosis almost immediately, and Funk’s leg was amputated in Baltimore, but the bacteria was in his bloodstream. It was too late. According to his wife, Marcia, It all was like “something out of a terror movie.”

According to the Florida Health Department: “Aggressive attention should be given to the wound site; for patients with wound infections, amputation of the infected limb is sometimes necessary.”

The flesh-eating bacteria is connected to climate change

Vibrio Vulnificus is often present in warm water with low salinity, the same kind of water were oysters and shellfish are found. However, increasing temperatures in oceans may also increase the spread of the bacteria that threatens the life of human beings. To verify the evolution of the bacteria, researchers analyze plankton in the water to determine the prevalence of such microorganisms.

As well, it was proven that in eight out of nine regions in the U.S the number of vibrio bacteria grew as the water temperature was rising. Therefore, it is evident that by damaging our environment we are not just destroying animals and the ocean, but we are hurting our species too.

Measures to fight the bacteria infection 

After the unfortunate death of Michael Funk, Ocean City is spreading awareness about this aggressive bacteria to his residents and visitors. Infections caused by this bacteria are rare and easily preventable; however, it is necessary to be aware of how we can prevent having contact with it and what we can do if we are infected.

Most people infected just feel ill a few days and then can recover. But it is not always like that since it can be aggressive producing death even in less than 24 hours or 4 days in the case of Funk.

Some recommendations include avoiding the ingestion of oyster or raw food too often. Yes, oysters may be delicious, but they increase the risks. However, there are great ways to eat them after cooking and that way we can prevent gastrointestinal illness.

Another way of precaution is to avoid warm, stagnant water, particularly after excessive rainfall. This kind of water was exactly the type in which Funk found the bacteria, unluckily, the worst and deadliest type of the Vibrio. Nonetheless, according to his now, widow, Funk loved boating, and he was no stranger to the water, as some resident of Ocean City.

Remember if you must step into warm, brackish water, make sure no cuts or wound are exposed to the water. And of course, wash thoroughly with soap and water after exposure.

As well keep in mind that symptoms are a lot alike those derived from cholera, including watery, diarrhea, cramping, nausea, fever and chills. If you present these symptoms, go to the emergency room as soon as possible. That way you’d be preventing amputation, complications, and even death.

Source: The Washington Post