N.J. man infected with flesh-eating bacteria while crabbing, could lose limbs

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Angel Perez, 60, of Millville was infected with flesh-eating bacteria in the waters off Matts Landing on July 2.

A Millville, N.J., man was infected with flesh-eating bacteria while crabbing in the waters off Matts Landing, Cumberland County, and may need to have multiple limbs amputated, his daughter said.

Angel Perez, 60, has been in the intensive care unit of Cooper University Hospital since July 4, undergoing aggressive treatment with antibiotics in hopes of saving his arms and legs, said daughter Dilena Perez-Dilan.

Though the infection has cleared from his bloodstream, and his kidneys have recovered somewhat after temporarily shutting down, physicians remain concerned, she said Tuesday.

“They’re worried that the dead skin and muscle are a breeding ground for the bacteria,” she said.

Perez was infected with a type of bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus while crabbing on a tributary of the Delaware Bay on July 2, and developed a condition called necrotizing fasciitis — commonly referred to as “flesh eating.” The potentially fatal condition can be caused by several types of bacteria, striking 1,000 people in the United States each year.

Vibrio bacteria pose little threat to healthy people who go in the water. But Perez has Parkinson’s disease, and some of the medicines he takes for that condition apparently had taken a toll on his immune system, his daughter said.

Perez first noticed swelling in one leg the day after he went crabbing. He went to an urgent care center, where he was diagnosed with cellulitis, a type of infection that is generally less serious. He was prescribed antibiotics and sent home, his daughter said.

But the swelling spread, so he went to the emergency room at Inspira Medical Center in Vineland, N.J., where he received the same diagnosis, according to his daughter.

By the next day — July 4 — he had started hallucinating, and he went to Cooper, where physicians diagnosed the flesh-eating infection.

“You can see it spreading from his feet all the way above his kneecap,” Perez-Dilan told NJ.com. “His forearms are black in color. They have blisters, cuts and sores.”

Vibrio bacteria are said to thrive in warm, salty water. They can be found in the Delaware Bay and ocean regardless of water quality, said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Anyone with an open wound should steer clear of the ocean and bay when it is warm, especially if they have a compromised immune system, said Megan Sheppard, the Cumberland County health officer.

“Typically with this, it’s going through an open wound, or you were scratched while you were in the water,” Sheppard said.

No other such cases have been reported in Cumberland County in the last five years, she said.

The bacteria appear to have infected others who went in the water at Matts Landing, though much less seriously. Perez-Dilan said one of her father’s friends and another family member developed rashes and swelling.

She said that up until the infection, her father had been going crabbing almost every day with no ill effects, wearing water shoes to protect his feet as he waded into the salty water. He used pieces of chicken as bait, tying the meat on a line at the end of a pole, she said.

People can be infected with a different type of Vibrio bacteria by eating raw oysters, suffering gastrointestinal distress as a result, but they generally recover after several days, Sheppard said.