(CNN) – A New Jersey man who went into a river fishing for crabs returned with something else entirely: a deadly bacterial infection.
Angel Perez, 60, went crabbing in Maurice River on July 2, according to CNN affiliate KYW. The next day, in pain with a swollen leg, he went to went to urgent care, where he was given antibiotics. But the symptoms got worse. He developed sores on his legs and began hallucinating, and his kidneys began shutting down, KYW reported.
Perez tested positive for a bacterium commonly found in coastal ocean water, Vibrio vulnificus, according to KYW. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that these bacteria cause about 205 infections per year nationwide. Some cases require limb amputations, and 15% to 30% of cases are fatal, according to the agency.
Perez’s daughter, Dilena Perez-Dilan, said that her father’s leg turned “practically [a] brown, blackish color” before his condition deteriorated further, according to CNN affiliate WPVI. The infection spread to all four limbs, the station reports.
Perez-Dilan told KYW that the “choice is life or limbs, and I’ve heard that multiple times.”
Infections caused by Vibrio bacteria can enter “through an existing wound and … cause other complications such as necrotizing fasciitis [an infection causing tissue death], which he unfortunately got,” Megan Sheppard, a health officer with the Cumberland County Department of Health, told KYW.
But this may be an unlikely way to get infected, according to experts.
“In the USA, most serious infections appear to occur with the ingestion of raw oysters along the Gulf Coast, as nearly all oysters are reported to harbor V. vulnificus during the summer months and 95% of cases were related to raw oyster ingestion,” according to a report published last year in the medical journal BMJ Case Reports, which chronicled the case of a man who died after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico with a freshly inked tattoo.
Experts advise anyone with open wounds or cuts to stay out of the water and those with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions to avoid eating raw shellfish.
When a number of cases were reported last year in Alabama, Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, told CNN that it’s important to be “wound- and water-aware,” especially during the summer months.
“The overarching message is that we must have a specific awareness for our own health and our own safety,” she said. “Let’s say you sustain a wound in the water. You need to watch for signs and symptoms of illness.”
The larger family of Vibrio bacteria causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths per year nationwide, according to the CDC. When ingested, these bacteria can cause symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, which typically start within 24 hours and last about three days. Severe illnesses like Perez’s are rare, but they are more likely among people with fragile immune systems.
“Rapid treatment is really critical,” CDC epidemiologist Dr. Rajal Mody previously told CNN. “If someone is eating raw oysters, especially in a high-risk group, or is swimming in the ocean and notices skin lesions that are worsening quickly, it is important to get early treatment.”
“We’ve all been praying,” Perez-Dilan told KYW. “I think our spirituality, our religion, has been allowing us to get through without going into a chaotic mess.”