Man who repaired Harvey-flooded homes dies of flesh-eating bacteria

GALVESTON, TX – Hurricane Harvey has claimed another victim, about two months after making landfall in Texas.

A 31-year-old man died last week after being diagnosed with a rare flesh-eating bacterial infection known as necrotizing fasciitis, the Galveston County Health District announced Monday.

The man has been identified as Josue Zurita, according to KHOU, and he was helping repair several homes damaged by flooding from Harvey.

Zurita went to the hospital on October 10 with a seriously infected wound on his upper left arm and was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, according to the Galveston County Health District.

In an obituary on the Galveston-based Carnes Brothers Funeral Home’s website, Zurita was called a “loving father and hard-working carpenter” who moved to the United States from Mexico to help his family and “remained to help with the rebuilding after hurricane Harvey.”

Zurita’s death follows that of Nancy Reed, a 77-year-old Houston-area woman who died in September from necrotizing fasciitis related to Harvey floodwaters.

J.R. Atkins, a former first responder, also contracted a flesh-eating bacterial infection but survived, according to KHOU. He had been kayaking through floodwaters to check on neighbors affected by the hurricane, according to a Facebook post in September.

“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,” said Dr. Philip Keiser, the Galveston County local health authority.

Yet such infections as necrotizing fasciitis are very rare, Keiser said. Since 2010, about 700 to 1,100 cases occur each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several types of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis, according to the National Institutes of Health. Such an infection can spread quickly and kills the body’s soft tissue, especially if it infects a wound that is not properly cared for, Keiser said. The infection also can become lethal within a short amount of time.

“What happens is, you get some kind of break in the skin, and in that area — between the skin and the muscle — it’s a fairly open space where the bacteria can grow,” Keiser said.

“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.”

To prevent such deadly infections, proper wound care is key, according to Keiser and the CDC.

Keep open wounds covered with clean, dry bandages until they heal, especially if you are working in floodwaters, and avoid contact with natural bodies of water if you have an open wound. Don’t delay treating minor, non-infected wounds, and wash hands often with soap and water.

Also, if you notice any redness or swelling of a wound, or if you have a fever, seek medical attention.