A bug bite and a little bit of floodwater can be a potentially deadly combination. On Aug. 29, former firefighter and paramedic J.R. Atkins of Missouri City, Texas, paddled through his flooded neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, looking for anyone who might need medicine, food, or other assistance. He wore a jacket, waterproof pants, and rain boots, but no gloves because he didn’t plan to leave his canoe and didn’t have any open cuts on his hands.
He didn’t plan on being bitten by an insect, either, but that’s exactly what happened, unbeknownst to Atkins at the time. The bite, on his hand, came into contact with Hurricane Harvey floodwater shortly after, and by the next day, his hand and arm were swollen and red.
His wife took him to the emergency room immediately and he spent 10 days in the hospital (five of those in ICU) undergoing three surgeries. Apparently, the hole in the skin left by the bug bite was large enough to allow Strep A-infected water in, resulting in bacteria growth that causes necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as “flesh-eating bacteria,” Atkins told People.
Doctors told Atkins’ wife his condition was limb- and life-threatening: necrotizing fasciitisis is fatal in more than 25 percent of cases.
Atkins was fortunate that his training as a first responder tipped him off to the symptoms and that he got to the hospital quickly. He’s back home now, hand completely intact, and is expected to make a full recovery.
Understandably, Atkins wants to make sure no one else goes through the same ordeal. “You want to stay dry,” he said. “Completely cover your skin with waterproof clothes and make sure any open wounds are sealed with material that water cannot penetrate.”
He especially stresses the importance of wearing a mask to prevent breathing in water droplets or mist: “No one wants flesh-eating bacteria in their lungs.”