Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills Man Who Rushed to Florida After Ian

James Hewitt of Michigan was infected by flesh-eating bacteria after falling in Florida canal
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 28, 2022 12:58 PM CDT
Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills Man Who Helped After Hurricane Ian
Water floods a damaged trailer park in Fort Myers, Fla., on Oct. 1, 2022.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

A man who rushed to Florida from Michigan to help a friend in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian was killed by a hazard he may not have been aware of, his fiancee says. Leah DeLano tells Fox that retired auto worker James Hewitt, 56, went to Naples, Florida, on Oct. 4 with a friend whose father had died 10 days earlier, leaving a boat and house that were severely damaged in the hurricane. Hewitt helped with repairs and helped others clear debris—but a week after he arrived in the state, Hewitt died in a Florida hospital after being infected by Vibrio vulnificus, a rare flesh-eating bacteria found in saltwater and brackish water.

DeLano says Hewitt apparently became infected on Oct. 8, when he fell off the friend's boat into a canal and scraped his leg. He was hospitalized the next day with a fever and a swollen leg. Earlier this month, authorities in Lee County, south of Naples, said they had seen an abnormal increase in Vibrio vulnificus in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Experts tell the Washington Post that that infections are likely to keep rising as the sea grows warmer and intensifying natural disasters bring brackish water inland.

"The Gulf Coast is the epicenter of disease like this," says Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. "You have a mix of climate change, poverty, and aggressive urbanization, all contributing to the exacerbation of vibrio infections and an increase of other diseases like dengue, zika, and parasitic infections." DeLano says she was able to make it to Florida with Hewitt's two adult children to see him before he died.

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"The message the whole family would like to share is that while in Florida, many are aware of the dangers after a hurricane, the people that come from up north to help don't," DeLano says. "So I really wish there was more information and warnings about knowing what you are getting into before you help after any kind of disaster." The CDC says people can become infected with Vibrio vulnificus by eating raw or undercooked seafood as well as through open wounds. The agency says "about 1 in 5 people with this infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill." (Read more Hurricane Ian stories.)

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