A Texas man, so far only identified as 31-years-old and Hispanic, has died from a flesh-eating bacteria after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico five days post getting a new tattoo on his leg.
The tattoo, an illustration of a cross and praying hands with the words “Jesus is my life” on his calf, is only part of his story. The cause of his death includes a series of events.
After swimming with the tattoo, the open wound was infected with the flesh-eating bacteria vibrio vulnificus. The CDC estimates 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths from this bacteria, per year. Any open wound or cut can allow the bacteria to enter the body.
Three days after swimming, the man experienced pain in his legs and feet and checked into the Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, TX.
“Very quickly, over a couple of hours, it began to get more discolored, more bruised and had large blisters that began to form, which was certainly alarming to us as it was to him,” said Dr. Nicholas Hendren, an internal medicine doctor. He also noted that he appeared sicker than most patients that come in to the hospital.
The man then went into the early stages of septic shock, which can lead to organ failure, and then progressed to severe stages over the next 12 hours.
Making his case even more rare, the man already suffered from chronic liver disease, as a result of drinking an approximated 72 ounces of beer on a daily basis.
Hendren explained that most cases of vibrio vulnificus result in vomiting and diarrhea only, because a healthy immune system can support the body. Additionally, 95 percent of all cases are from raw oyster consumption, not the act of swimming with a new tattoo. Suffering from vibrio vulnificus because of this is rare in itself.
Over the next two months, the man went through up and downs in his heavily-sedated recovery but ultimately ended up dying from septic shock.
“For patients who are healthy, this organism very rarely infects people,” Hendren said. “If they are infected, most people do fine and essentially never present to the hospital. But in patients who do have liver disease, they’re susceptible to much more infection.”
Tips to avoid vibrio vulnificus & other bacteria:
Hendren made it very clear that it is typically safe to get a tattoo, but there are both specific and general precautions to take to avoid such bateria:
- People with liver disease or iron disorders should never eat raw oysters
- Cook all oysters to kill the bacteria
- Get all tattoos from a licensed tattoo parlor
- To care for a new tattoo, avoid soaking it, avoid dirty water and apply antibacterial ointment
- Avoid swimming in warm, salt and brackish water when you have any form of open, non-healed cut or wound
CNN contributed to this report.