A Texas man has died after contracting a rare flesh-eating infection while fixing several homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey, health officials said.
The 31-year-old Galveston man was hospitalized on Oct. 10 for a “seriously infected” wound on his upper left arm and died six days later, the Galveston County Health District said in a news release Monday. His official cause of death was necrotizing fasciitis, a deadly bacterial skin infection that rapidly eats away at the body’s soft tissue, according to the local health district and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The man had been working on Hurricane Harvey recovery projects in the area, where health officials believe he contracted the infection.
“It’s most likely this person’s infection occurred when bacteria from Harvey debris or floodwater entered his body through a wound or cut,” Galveston County Local Health Authority Philip Keiser said in a statement. “This is a very rare infection but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking for this person’s family and friends.”
Officials have not identified the 31-year-old man. But local news channel KHOU said he was Josue Zurita, citing relatives. “He’s a very caring person,” said Brenda Avalos, who is married to one of Zurita’s cousins. “He has a lot of friends here in Galveston that love him. Everybody is very sad. He was very young and always smiling.”
Officials said this is the only known case of necrotizing fasciitis related to Hurricane Harvey in Galveston. In Houston, the infection killed 77-year-old Nancy Reed last month. She died after falling into contaminated Hurricane Harvey floodwaters and contracting the infection, the Harris County chief medical examiner said at the time.
The CDC said more than one type of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis, which can be treated if it is diagnosed in time. The most common type, group A Streptococcus, has led to about 700 to 1,100 annual cases of necrotizing fasciitis in the U.S. since 2010. It’s unclear how many of those cases resulted in deaths.
Health officials urged those working on hurricane recovery efforts to wash their hands often with soap and water and seek needed medical attention quickly if they sustain a cut or a wound.
Hurricane Harvey hit Texas nearly two months ago, killing more than 80 people and destroying at least 176,000 homes, officials have said.