A 31-year-old Galveston man has died from flesh-eating bacteria he likely contracted in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the second such fatality from the catastrophic event.
Josue Zurita succumbed to necrotizing fascitis, an infection that spreads quickly through soft tissue, at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston on Oct. 16, his family said. Galveston County health officials Monday confirmed the death without mentioning Zurita's name.
"He had incredibly bad luck, contracting a very rare infection through a deep cut," said Dr. Philip Keiser, local health authority for Galveston County. "That doesn't make it any less heartbreaking for his family and friends."
Keiser said he attributes the death to Harvey, though he emphasized it is impossible to know if the infection was contracted in floodwaters. A carpenter, Zurita suffered a skin puncture from a nail while repairing homes damaged by Harvey flooding.
Keiser said the necrotizing fascitis was caused by the bacteria Klebsiella, one of a number of bacteria - vibrio vulnificus, E. coli, streptococcus and certain types of drug-resistant staphylococcus are others - that kill nerves and blood vessels while spreading throughout the body. It is found almost everywhere, from water and mud to hospitals, but is not as common a cause of the disease as strep. Vibrio is the most common cause in salt water.
Keiser said he is hopeful the death will be the last Harvey-related case of flesh-eating bacteria, which public health officials had feared could be a significant threat from the flooding. There were more than 20 cases reported in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Earlier this month, the Harris County medical examiners office ruled that Nancy Reed, a 77-year-old Kingwood woman died from the infection after falling in floodwaters and cutting her arm. She died at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center on Sept. 15.
A third case involved a former firefighter and medic, J.R. Atkins, who reportedly suffered an insect bite and contracted the disease while helping flooded Missouri City neighbors. He survived.
Zurita was diagnosed with necrotizing fascitis soon after his admittance to the hospital Oct. 10, said Keiser, who also is a doctor of infectious disease at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He said the infection spread particularly quick because the cut was deep.
A funeral was held for Zurita on Sunday. He is being buried in his hometown of Oaxaca, Mexico.
John J. Russell, MDPeer
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