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Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills 59-Year-Old Florida Man

Update Date: Oct 04, 2013 10:48 AM EDT
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A dangerous, flesh-eating bacterium has taken the life of 59-year-old Henry Konietzky. Konietzky, who was from Palm Coast, FL, was wading in the Halifax River near Ormond Beach while setting traps to capture crabs. Before he knew it, the deadly bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, had infected him possibly through an open wound on his leg.

Vibrio vulnificus reside in warm and salty water and is a part of a group of bacteria titled, halophilic. It can only infect the body through an opening. In this case, Konietzky had noticed a sore on his leg that resembled a bug bite the day after his fishing trip. The following day, on Sept. 23, Konietzky had died.

According to the Brevard County health director, Heidar Heshmati, this bacteria is "not that serious" for people who are healthy. For people who have liver disease or cancer, the bacteria's kill rate increases by 50 percent. The bacteria often cause lesions and skin infections that need to be medically treated. In some situations, around 50 percent of the time, damaged tissues need to be surgically removed or even amputated.  When Vibrio vulnificus is ingested, most likely through foods such as raw oysters, it leads to death the majority of the time. Due to the high mortality rate associated with ingesting the bacteria, health experts have repeatedly stressed that people cook their seafood thoroughly.

Symptoms of a Vibrio vulnificus infection can take anywhere from one to three days to show. In a small number of cases, symptoms might start after a week post infection. Some of the symptoms include fever, skin redness on the arms or legs, swelling, blood-tinged blisters, shock and low blood pressure.

"I don't know that there's any increase at all," Jim Oliver, a professor of microbiology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, said according to USA Today. "There are more cases in Florida than anywhere else."

So far, there have been 27 reported cases this year to the Florida Department of Health with nine deaths. Of the deaths, officials believe four were from seawater exposure, three from consuming raw oyster and two through unidentified routes of exposure. The state averages around 50 cases with 45 hospitalizations and 16 deaths each year. The nation as a whole deals with around 95 cases, 85 hospitalizations and 35 deaths. 

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