Man Catches 'Flesh-eating' Bacteria at Texas Beach During Family Visit

A man was hospitalized after he caught a so-called flesh-eating bacteria at a Texas beach.

Darrell Dunn visited Crystal Beach on the Gulf Coast with his family on May 5, when his legs were crushed in an incident involving a golf cart, his wife Robbin Kelly-Dunn told KTRK. The family were at the spot in Galveston County to celebrate her birthday.

According to Kelly-Dunn, the 911 dispatcher said it would take some time to get Dunn to a hospital because of where they were located. She said Dunn's wounds were exposed when he arrived at the hospital.

Kelly-Dunn, who works in health care, told KTRK: "I know protocol... When someone comes into the emergency room with something like that, especially if it's on a beach area, you are supposed to clean the wounds because of possible infections. Nothing was done."

After Dunn was discharged from hospital, the couple went to two additional hospitals and an urgent care unit before he was hospitalized. At the final hospital, doctors gave Dunn antibiotics.

Dunn was diagnosed with a Vibrio vulnificus infection. The bacteria is among those commonly described as "flesh-eating," alongside others such as A Streptococcus. The bacteria does not literally eat away at the skin, but instead can cause a rare, severe type of infection known as necrotizing fasciitis where the flesh around the wound dies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vibrio vulnificus is present in all coastal U.S. waters, is most often found in warm seawater, and thrives at temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Mostly, infections are linked to people eating contaminated raw oysters, with around 25 percent of infections caused by an open wound coming into contact with affected water. People who are immunocompromized, particularly those with conditions such as hepatitis B or C, as well as alcoholic livers disease are more likely to get infected.

Symptoms of a wound infection from Vibrio vulnificus include fever, as well as redness, swelling, pain, warmth, discoloration, and discharge at the site. Those with a blood infection can experience blistered skin, fever, chills, and low blood pressure.

Images of his wounds published by KTRK show a patch on Dunn's leg where the skin had become blistered.

Wounds infected with Vibrio vulnificus sometimes need to be cut away, or the area amputated, the CDC states on its website.

Kelly-Dunn told KTRK: "Had I waited, he could have possibly lost his limb."

Dr. Anthony Flores, associate professor in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at McGovern Medical School, told KTRK: "The infections themselves that we see in either children or adults are pretty rare. But, when we do see them, it's usually after exposure to the waters where the bug lives."

On its website, Galveston County Health District highlights how rare such infections are. In 2015, over 10 million people visited Texas beaches and fewer than 0.00035 percent people caught Vibrio vulnificus. The majority of those recovered without any long-term health problems.

Vibrio vulnificus, getty
An illustration shows vibrio vulnificus bacteria. Darrell Dunn caught the bacteria at a Texas beach. Getty Images/Dr_Microbe