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Flesh-eating bacteria kills Virginia fisherman

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) -- A warning about a flesh eating bacteria that killed a Hampton fisherman.

Epidemiologist Nancy Lemus with the Hampton Health Department said Vibrio infects about 50 people a year in Virginia.

She reports so far this year there have been nine cases all in the Hampton Roads area.

You can get it from eating raw oysters or clams, or in saltwater through an open cut or sore.

10 On Your Side spoke with a man who survived it after getting cut on a fishing hook five years ago. 

Tim Morgan was out fishing when he cut his finger on a hook coated in eel slime. He didn't think much of it until the pain became unbearable.

"On a scale of one to 10 how does it feel? I'd call the pain from Vibrio a nine if you define 10 as being you pass out from pain," he said. 

He stayed in the hospital for 8 weeks on IV antibiotics and painkillers. "I could have possibly lost my finger or my arm or my life."

The infection is very serious, but rare.  Health officials say those who have compromised immune systems from things like liver disease or diabetes are most at risk.

"If you do have a cut you want to come out of the water immediately and wash with soap and water or you can use hydrogen peroxide -- that's a good disinfectant," Lemus advised.

She also suggests you pay attention to those swimming advisories and stay off of rock jetties.

"They will cut you in a minute and those cuts you get the bacteria directly into those cuts so you want to be very, very careful."

However, she said, don't be afraid of the water or beach.

Even after surviving Vibrio and losing a friend to it, Tim Morgan still enjoys fishing as much as ever, but with much more caution.  

"People should just be aware of the risks and take care."

If you experience the symptoms of Vibrio -- swelling, redness and severe pain -- get to an emergency room right away.

Quick treatment with antibiotics improves chances of survival.


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