GALVESTON, Texas - A Galveston man helping his community rebuild after Hurricane Harvey died earlier this month after contracting flesh-eating bacteria through a wound on his arm.
The man, identified by KHOU in Houston as Josue Zurita, died Oct. 16. The 31-year-old Mexico native was the third person to contract necrotizing fasciitis in Harvey’s wake, and the second to die.
The Galveston County Health District reported that Zurita went to a hospital Oct. 10 with a severely infected wound on his arm. He was diagnosed with the deadly infection, in which bacteria kills a person’s soft tissue.
Zurita had repaired several homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey, health district officials said.
“It’s most likely this person’s infection occurred when bacteria from Harvey debris or floodwater entered his body through a wound or cut,” Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County local health authority, said in a news release. “This is a very rare infection, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking for this person’s family and friends.”
Zurita’s obituary described him as a loving husband and father who moved to the United States to help his family, which includes a wife and daughter in his native Oaxaca. He was a skilled carpenter who was doing demolition work following the devastating hurricane that hit Texas in August.
“He’s a very caring person,” Brenda Avalos, wife of Zurita’s cousin, told KHOU. “He has a lot of friends here in Galveston that love him. Everybody is very sad. He was very young and always smiling.”
Zurita’s death is the only known case of necrotizing fasciitis in Galveston County related to Harvey, according to health district officials.
The two other cases that have been reported were in the Houston area. In the first, a former firefighter and medic who helped rescue people from Harvey’s floodwaters contracted the illness after a mosquito bite near his wrist became infected.
J.R. Atkins, of Missouri City, said he recognized the symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis right away and sought treatment. He recovered after multiple surgeries and a stint in the intensive care unit.
In the second Harris County case, Nancy Reed, 77, of Houston’s Kingwood community, died Sept. 15, several days after falling in the floodwaters in her son’s home. Reed suffered a broken arm and cut in the fall, which led to the infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with weakened immune systems, including the elderly, are more susceptible to contracting necrotizing fasciitis. A majority of people who become infected have other conditions, like diabetes, kidney disease, cancer or another chronic illness, that affect their immunity.
Officials caution people with open wounds to practice proper care, including covering the wounds with clean, dry bandages until they are healed. First aid should not be delayed, even for minor, non-infected wounds, the CDC said.
Those with open wounds should wash their hands often, with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available. They should avoid contact with whirlpools, hot tubs and swimming pools, as well as with natural bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers or oceans.
A wounded person should seek medical attention immediately if they develop redness, swelling or a fever.
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