A Texas man who went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico ended up dying from a flesh-eating infection caused by a tattoo he had inked on his leg five days earlier.
The 31-year-old man, identified only as Hispanic, was admitted to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas with severe pain in both legs and feet, fever, chills, and reddening on areas of his skin, including the tattoo, according to a case report in BMJ, a British medical journal.
Three days after the swim, he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with septic shock caused by an infection from vibrio vulnificus, deadly bacteria found in the Gulf and other coastal waters during the warmer months, explained Dr. Nicholas Hendren, lead author of the report and an internal medicine resident at Parkland and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
“Within the first 12 to 24 hours his pain and discoloration in the leg advanced and developed what’s called bullae or fluid-filled blisters,” Hendren told CBS News.
He was treated with aggressive antibiotics and put on life support. There was initial improvement, but his condition worsened, causing multiple organ system failure as well as complications of cirrhosis, renal failure and necrotic skin lesions. He died two months after his admission to the hospital. The case report stated he had a history of cirrhosis of the liver from alcohol and drank six 12-ounce beers a day.
Most healthy people who contract the bacteria have immune systems strong enough to protect them, but people with chronic liver disease or excessive iron levels in the body should avoid going into the ocean when they have open skin wounds, according to the report.
People with a new tattoo should also avoid swimming until it has had time to heal, USA Today pointed out.
Vibrio vulnificus is one of the most common bacteria that causes illness in people. There are an estimated 100 deaths and 80,000 illnesses each year in the U.S. from it, according to the CDC.
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