Man dies from flesh-eating bacteria found in local waterways

Posted at 2:12 PM, Aug 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-04 19:58:46-04

A 75-year-old Hanover man died recently after developing a flesh-eating bacterial infection from the Rappahannock River.

According to WTVR, Charlie Horner stepped on something in the river. When the wound became infected, his leg had to be amputated. Horner died shortly afterwards.

The Virginia Department of Health says a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus was in the water and contributed to Horner’s death.

The death was the first in Virginia in 2015 attributed to Vibrio. There have been 17 cases reported so far this year.

While the risk is low, an owner of a Newport News seafood company tells NewsChannel 3, he takes precaution everyday, especially when it comes to his seafood and his staff.

"I supply ice for them and I make sure the oysters are iced down when I take them out. I check their temperature when they get to the dock," says Kent Carr, owner of Kent Carr Seafood. "If they've got scratches or sores or any of that, you can't let them work, and I'm really particular about that."

The bacteria is naturally found in brackish and salt waters and thrives when the water is warmer. This includes the James River, Elizabeth River and Chesapeake Bay. Infections can occur in people who eat raw or undercooked shellfish or who swim with open wounds or punctures in the contaminated waters.

Carr says people should be aware, but not scared about it.

The risk of infection is low and because it naturally occurs, health officials generally do not test for it.

Carr says he takes extra steps to make sure his seafood and his staff are protected.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says you can avoid Vibrio infections by following these tips:

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked shellfish (especially during warm months).
  • Avoid contact with Bay waters.
  • When water contact cannot be avoided, cover wounds with waterproof bandages and wear water shoes to avoid cuts and scrapes.
  • If cuts, scrapes or other wounds occur while in the water, wash immediately with clean water and soap.
  • Shower after swimming in natural waters and wash hands before handling food.