Man died 'horror-movie' death from flesh-eating bacteria

OCEAN CITY, Md. — On Sept. 11, Michael Funk was cleaning crab pots at his bayside condominium; four days later he was dead, the victim of flesh-eating bacteria.

For Marcia Funk, his wife of 46 years, his death is compounded by what she called a lack of information here about the bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus.

"I really feel they kept it quiet because it's a tourist resort," Marcia Funk said. "It's like something out of a horror movie."

The bacteria, along with about a dozen others that are related, occurs naturally in areas of warm, brackish waters with low salinity. Most of the 80,000 people who become ill across the USA each year consume raw or under-cooked seafood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who contract the more severe vibrosis from the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium number fewer than 200, according to CDC reports since 2007, when the agency started to require nationwide reporting.

Flesh-eating bacteria and fungi

Several flesh-eating organisms are common in nature, but the infections they cause are rare in humans. To cause a problem, they generally enter the body through a break in the skin, such as a cut, scrape, burn, insect bite or puncture wound and often strike people whose immune systems are vulnerable.

• Necrotizing cutaneous mucormycosis. More than one type of fungus can cause this skin infection, but the most common is Rhizopus arrhizus (oryzae). A cluster of cases, including five deaths, happened among residents injured in a May 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo.

Necrotizing fasciitisMore than one type of bacteria can cause this skin infection, but streptococcus is the most common. In May 2012, this necrotizing fasciitis from Aeromonas hydrophila bacteria forced doctors to amputate portions of all four of Aimee Copeland's limbs. The Snellville, Ga., native was injured when a zip line that she was riding broke and plunged her into the Little Tallapoosa River, giving her a gash on her leg.

• Vibriosis. Vibrio vulnificus bacteria that live in coastal waters cause this type of infection. It is often associated with deaths from eating raw oysters that can carry the bacteria, but it also thrives in brackish water and can infect a person through a break in the skin.

Source: USA TODAY research



The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times


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