A local man remains in critical condition at St. Joseph’s Candler after reportedly fishing near Dasher’s Landing on the Ogeechee River last week and contracting a bacterial infection commonly known as the flesh eating disease.
The man, Joseph Allen contracted necrotizing fasciitis, which is caused by bacteria infecting an open wound, after his boat broke down and he had to enter the water, according to media reports.
The news led some to blame pollution in the Ogeechee for Allen’s contracting the disease, but health officials say necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by different kinds of bacteria that have been around for decades.
Dr. Sarah Barbour of St. Joseph’s Candler said a healthy person swimming in the river shouldn’t be any more concerned about necrotizing fasciitis than they have been in the past. The bacteria normally cause the infection in susceptible hosts, including those who have liver disease, are diabetic or are “immune compromised” in another way, according to Barbour.
Necrotizing fasciitis infects the layer between muscle and tissue, according to Barbour, and normally if a person gets a deep cut while swimming where the bacteria is present. It is a rapidly progressive infection, she said, and it destroys tissue in a couple of days.
It usually requires extensive surgery to remove that tissue, and if it’s not done in a timely manner patients do poorly, said Barbour. She said signs of the infection are excruciating pain and the person’s condition worsening quickly.
There were no alerts issued by state officials after news of Allen’s sickness was reported Monday by CBS affiliate WTOC and picked up by other stations.
Diane Weems, M.D., District Health Director of the Coastal Health District, didn’t refer to specific cases in an emailed statement, but said necrotizing fasciitis is “itself not a reportable disease.”
“Necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by a variety of bacteria and some, but not all, are reportable to public health if they cause an invasive infection such as necrotizing fasciitis,” Weems said. “Some bacteria can be found in fresh water lakes/rivers but their association with causing necrotizing fasciitis is rare and hence the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not recommend people avoid swimming; however, the CDC does recommend that people not swim when they have open wounds allowing for entry of disease-causing germs.”
Allen’s family couldn’t be reached Tuesday, but initially told a reporter with WTOC he entered the water after he had trouble with his boat. He got sick the next day and was taken to St. Joseph’s Candler. The hospital confirmed Tuesday Allen remained in critical condition.