Vibrio survivor recalls "excruciating pain" from flesh-eating bacteria

Vibrio survivor recalls "excruciating pain" from flesh-eating bacteria
Posted at 1:20 PM, Jul 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-13 13:20:00-04

BILOXI, Ms. (WALA) - It was something he never expected to happen after spending a casual afternoon playing in the water with his family in the marshes of Biloxi four years ago, but it quickly became something that forever altered the course of his life. 

Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria known to deteriorate flesh once contracted by humans, had infected Jocko Angle's lower left leg. 

Angle didn't have any major cuts or wounds, but somehow he still picked up the bacteria while wading in the water that fateful day in June 2013. 

"When I got home, I started having flu-like symptoms, and it got really bad, and my left leg started hurting more and more and more. About six hours since the exposure, the pain was so bad, I actually called an ambulance, because I couldn't drive. It was that bad," he recalled. 

He was given antibiotics and pain killers, and was sent home, but the pain became too much too bear. 

"About five hours after that, it was bad, the pain pills that they gave me were not working," said Angle. 

He decided to take himself to another hospital, and discovered a tea-cup sized blister had formed on his leg. 

Fortunately, doctors were able to save his leg, sparing him from an amputation that many Vibrio survivors suffer. 

However, Angle had to undergo nine months in wound care. 

"Three days a week, they would take my bandages off, and then they would remove the dead skin off my leg. That was very painful. It's already under attack by the bacteria that's consuming your flesh, so they have to remove all of the dead meat so gangrene doesn't set in," he said. "I wouldn't wish it on my ex-wife, that's how bad it was."

Four years later, Angle still suffers from the infection. The bacteria permanently damaged his lymphatic system, leaving his left leg swollen for the rest of his life. 

"My lymph nodes and my lymphatic system on the left side of my body has been basically destroyed," Angle said. 

He has set up a Facebook page for Vibrio survivors on the Gulf Coast to share their stories, and seek support. 

Monday, health officials confirmed four people have contracted Vibrio on the Alabama Gulf Coast this year. Four of those cases were reported in Mobile County, and another possible case has been reported in Baldwin County. 

Angle offers the following advice to those who have recently fallen ill by the bacteria. 

"Talk to people who have already had it, there is life after Vibrio," he said. 

Health officials explain Vibrio proliferates in warm, brackish water. If you have an open wound, you should not go swimming in local waterways. 

Furthermore, if you are injured while swimming in local waterways, health officials advise you to get out of the water and wash your injury immediately, and then seek medical attention. 

Vibrio can live in high counts on oysters and shrimp. Locals should beware of eating raw seafood, and should take extra precaution when handling uncooked seafood and live bait. 

If you have a preexisting illness or health condition, officials advise you should not eat any raw shellfish. 

If you notice any gastrointestinal problems, nausea, fever, or swelling, after eating raw seafood or swimming, it is crucial to seek medical attention right away.

For more information about the recently confirmed cases, click here. 

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