Brittany Carey took to Facebook to share the story along with two pictures that she said were evidence of the wounds her son suffered.
Carey said her son went swimming on June 23 in the Sinepuxent Bay just north of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge and was having a great time. But a day later, little spots began developing all over his body. The following day, a Tuesday, there were open wounds developing.
“I had thought he was scratching them, making them worse. Only to find when I picked him up Tuesday they were a lot bigger and a lot more,” she wrote, noting it was eventually diagnosed as Vibrio, a flesh-eating bacteria, by doctors at Peninsula Regional Medical Center.
“I know we’ve all seen these cases in the Delaware Bay but now my little guy got this from being in the bay right by hoopers. Please be careful out there guys and if you start seeing wounds such as these please get somewhere fast!” she added.
The story circulated widely on Facebook.
Debra Stevens, director of community health and emergency preparedness for the Worcester County Health Department, said that Vibrio infections can happen when people consume shellfish that are infected by the bacteria or contract it through breaks in the skin.
Symptoms can take between 12 and 72 hours to start showing up.
“If you already have an open wound, if Vibrio gets into that wound then it can cause an additional infection,” Stevens told the Salisbury Daily Times. “It can make that wound get larger, get red, you typically may have fever, stomach ache. It’s going to get red and infected-looking.”
Roman Jesien, science coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, added that all the known strains of the bacteria are present in Maryland waters.
A Maryland boy was infected with flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio in June 2019 while swimming off West Ocean City. Health official say cases are rare https://t.co/akgAlNv8LW
— Delaware Online (@delawareonline) July 3, 2019
“We do have Vibrio and we have a number of strains that are considered flesh-eating,” Jesien said. “We find them typically in low numbers, but they are present just like sharks are present in our coastal waters—so it’s just part of the system.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Vibrio causes an estimated 100 deaths in the United States every year out of some 80,000 illnesses.
“Most infections occur from May through October when water temperatures are warmer,” the agency stated.
“A clinician may suspect vibriosis if a patient has watery diarrhea and has recently eaten raw or undercooked seafood, especially oysters, or when a wound infection occurs after exposure to seawater. Infection is diagnosed when Vibrio bacteria are found in the stool, wound, or blood of a patient who has symptoms of vibriosis,” it added. Treatment usually includes drinking plenty of liquid and, in severe cases, antibiotics.
The Maryland Department of Health recommends people staying out of the water if they have skin wounds or infection. People can also wear water shoes when going into the water to prevent cuts and should take care when handling live crabs.
Another precaution is always taking a shower after contact with natural waters.
Michael Funk, a Maryland man, died in September 2016 from Vibrio. Family members said he was cleaning crab pots before he got sick and got cuts that allowed Vibrio to enter.
“It was very fast moving,” his wife Marcia Funk told The Daily Times. “He was in so much pain.”
And on July 1, a woman died in Florida about two weeks after contracting Vibrio. She scraped her leg on a beach and soon became sick.
“Maybe if she was diagnosed a little earlier, you know, maybe we’d be sitting here talking to my mom without a leg, but you know, with a life,” her son Wade Fleming said.