When a Lake Jackson man headed down south to go fishing at Port Aransas last week, he ended up returning with a severe rash on his leg. Anyone who has tuned in to recent stories about what the media loves to alarmingly call "flesh-eating bacteria" knows this is a red flag: Sure enough, as KTRK first reported, when the man's leg started hurting so bad he couldn't walk, he and his wife went to the hospital — and 53-year-old Vince Chappell became the fourth person this summer to make headlines for contracting an infection caused by the bacteria formally called Vibrio.
Chappell had cut his foot when wading in the water, his wife, Janie, told KTRK. And that's how doctors think the microscopic bacteria — commonly called "flesh-eating" because of how it destroys skin and tissue if the infection becomes severe — got into Chappell's system. The hospital told KTRK he is expected to recover.
The Vibrio bacteria usually hangs out in brackish or warm waters and does not target humans, but can enter open wounds by chance, as Galveston County Health District spokesman Scott Packard recently explained to us. You can also get it more commonly by eating raw shellfish. Most people's immune systems fight off the bacteria with no problem, but those with compromised immune systems due to health issues including diabetes, HIV, liver disease or cancer have a greater risk for complications, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that around 80,000 people contract Vibrio, and about 100 die.
Other cases of Vibrio have come out of Corpus Christi and McFadden Beach in Jefferson County, as the Houston Chronicle reported. The most troublesome Vibrio case, however, came out of Galveston Island a couple weeks ago, when a man named Brian Parrott, who had diabetes and an open wound, went swimming at the beach — and then ended up getting his leg amputated. The incident sent many Galveston beachgoers into a temporary panic.
After media reports about the tragic event made their rounds, we talked to Packard, who told us that what happened to Parrott at Galveston Island was both extremely unfortunate and "extraordinarily rare." He said only eight people contracted Vibrio in 2015 out of about six million beachgoers.
While you weigh your luck with those odds, all we're going to add is: Seriously, people, just remember to cover up your open wounds.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.