A man has died after contracting a flesh-eating bacterial infection while working to repair homes affected by Hurricane Harvey. It is the third such case of the disease following the storm, which hit the Houston area in late August.
Josue Zurita, 31, went to a Galveston County hospital on Oct. 10 with a highly infected wound on his upper left arm. Upon examination, doctors diagnosed him with necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection which kills soft tissue. Zurita passed away on Oct. 16, according to an Oct. 23 press release from the Galveston County Health District.
"He's a very caring person," said Brenda Avalos, Zurita's cousin's wife. "He has a lot of friends here in Galveston that love him. Everybody is very sad. He was very young and always smiling."
KHOU reports that Zurita came to the U.S. from Mexico 12 years ago to provide a better life for his family. He worked as a carpenter and was doing demolition work after Harvey.
Although the infection is extremely rare, CNN reports that two other cases of necrotizing fasciitis have occurred since Hurricane Harvey made landfall. The first case, that of 77-year-old Nancy Reed, happened in September. Reed did not survive. The second case, which affected former first responder J.R. Atkins, was not fatal.
All three individuals are said to have come into contact with flood waters. Galveston County health officials believe those waters are responsible for carrying and transmitting the disease.
"We're surprised we saw three of them in the region, but given the exposure to all the construction and potential injuries that people would have ... it shouldn't be surprising. It's well within what we would expect given those numbers," Dr. Philip Keiser, a Galveston County doctor, told CNN.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 700 to 1,100 cases of necrotizing fasciitis per year in the U.S. The infection can be caused by more than one type of bacteria. Individuals with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of contracting the infection.
Surgery and antibiotics are often the first method of treatment, but any treatment must be done quickly to be successful.
"I have seen these things spread over hours. Even in one case, as I was examining a patient, I could see the red spread in the minutes I was examining him, and that's the real danger to it," Keiser said. "As it spreads, it's going up the space between the muscle and skin, and as it does that, it kills all the nerves and the blood vessels can clot."
The CDC and Galveston County Health District both emphasize proper hygiene and wound care following contact with flood waters as the best prevention against contracting diseases from such exposure.
Sources: CNN, KHOU, Galveston County Health District, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / Featured Image: Nephron/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Texas Army National Guard via FBI.gov, U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stefan Alvarez via 59th Medical Wing