A New Jersey man infected with flesh-eating bacteria looks like he'll lose his battle with the infection — here's what to know about the condition

Shutterstock/dreikimPerez was infected with flesh-eating vibrio bacteria while wading in the brackish waters of the Maurice River.
  • On July 2, a New Jersey man was infected with bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease, while wading in brackish river water.
  • The man, Angel Perez, has taken a turn for the worse and is being transferred to hospice care, according to reports.
  • Flesh-eating disease can be caused by a variety of bacteria, and it kills up 30% of those infected.

Angel Perez went crabbing in New Jersey’s Maurice River on July 2, as he did frequently, according to his daughter, Dilena Perez-Dilan, who spoke to local ABC News station WPVI.

But a few hours after he got out of the water, Perez’s leg started to blister, swell, and change to a “brown, blackish colour,” his daughter told the news station.

Perez was infected with bacteria that can cause flesh-eating disease, known as necrotizing fasciitis. A number of different bacteria can cause the infection, which causes soft tissue like skin, muscle, ligaments, blood vessels, and fat to die. The disease kills up to 30% of those infected if it’s not stopped.

In this case, doctors say Perez was infected with Vibrio bacteria, which can be found in water that’s brackish (meaning partially salty), especially in warm summer months.

The infection spread to Perez’s other leg and both arms. Doctors at Cooper University Hospital were treating him with antibiotics last month and trying to save his life. They thought his condition was improving and that surgeons would only have to amputate some of Perez’s fingers and toes, according to NJ Advance Media, but he recently took a turn for the worse.

The infection started to spread again, with gangrene appearing on his feet, hands, and arms. The paper reported on Wednesday that Perez was being transferred to hospice – end-of-life care with the primary goal of making patients comfortable.

Vibrio skin infectionCDCSkin lesions caused by Vibrio vulnificus bacteria after Hurricane Katrina.

Vibrio, flesh-eating bacteria, and brackish water

There are approximately a dozen types of Vibriobacteria. Most cause an unpleasant condition called vibriosis that can resolve within a few days, but one rare type of Vibrio bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis.

Anyone exposed to the bacteria can get infected, especially if they have open cuts or wounds. Perez reportedly has Parkinson’s, which put him at even higher risk of infection.

One specific form of Vibrio bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, is especially dangerous. This infection can cause blistering skin lesions, bloodstream infections, and necrotizing fasciitis if a wound gets infected. But it’s rare: the CDC estimates that there are about 205 cases in the US every year, with just a few of those in New Jersey.

Vibrio is more commonly a risk for people wading through floodwaters. After Hurricane Harvey, a flesh-eating bacteria infection resulted in at least one fatality, and there were several Vibrio deaths after Hurricane Katrina.

Most of the 80,000 vibriosis infections that occur in the US every year are less serious, according to the CDC. Estimates suggest 52,000 of those cases are likely the result of eating contaminated food, especially raw seafood. About 80% of those infections occur between May and October, when water is particularly warm – an ideal condition for colonies of bacteria to grow and thrive.

Signs of the disease

Necrotizing fasciitis is most often caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria and some other types. But flesh-eating disease caused by Vibriois treated differently, so identifying it is important.

Flesh-eating disease is one of the most common signs of Vibrio vulnificus, according to one study.

People are more susceptible to necrotizing fasciitis if they have a condition or illness that weakens their immune system, as Perez does. But the bacteria usually causes infection at the site of a cut or wound regardless. Normally, the condition is accompanied by extreme pain that may start as soreness, like the feeling of a pulled muscle, but quickly becomes more severe. Spreading areas of discolored skin are a sign of the condition as well.

If any of these symptoms are present after a wound appears, or if you have fever, chills, or vomiting, the CDC advises seeing a doctor for treatment immediately.

In Perez’s case, money is being raised for his family via a GoFundMe campaign.

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