Man fights for life in ICU after contracting flesh-eating bacteria on Gulf Coast

CAMERON PARISH, La. (KPLC/Gray News) – While flesh-eating bacteria may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you head to the beach, doctors say it’s something to be aware of.

This year, a deadly species of flesh-eating bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus is appearing earlier than in past summers.

dr. Stephen Castleberry of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital said he is seeing the bacteria appear four to six weeks earlier than in years past. He said the infection could turn into septic shock overnight, with health workers rushing to save lives and limbs.

“This infection is something that will turn from a fun day at the beach into an extremely painful wound within hours,” Castleberry said.

That’s exactly what happened to Jessie Abshire, who is now recovering in the ICU after contracting the flesh-eating bacteria while scratching in Cameron Parish, located off the Louisiana coastline.

Jessie Abshire’s wife, Belinda Abshire, said the family spent “up to a few hours” scratching in ankle-deep water.

“Who would have thought we would have gone scratching in ankle-deep water and two days later you almost died in the hospital,” said Belinda Abshire.

Belinda Abshire shares her husband’s near-death experience in the hopes that it can save even one other person from the same suffering as him. Jessie Abshire’s family said they were grateful for what doctors are calling a “miraculous recovery” after fearing he might die.

†[He is] gets better every day,” said Amanda Savoie, daughter of Jessie Abshire. “We have a long road ahead of us.”

Although Vibrio vulnificus can also affect the intestinal tract, doctors are most concerned about the bacteria that enter the skin and bloodstream through open wounds, including the smallest cuts and scrapes. Castleberry said people who are immunocompromised or have pre-existing conditions are most at risk for serious illness, but the bacteria can infect anyone.

“Any break in the skin, even a few days old tattoo, a small cut that you may not even recognize beforehand,” Castleberry said. “Anytime you’re in brackish water, gulf water, during these times of the month, it doesn’t hurt to wash up after you leave the beach. If you have a fresh wound, don’t go in the water.”

If an open wound is exposed to water, Castleberry recommends washing any abrasions immediately with soap and water. If the wound becomes painful, seek immediate medical attention.

“When in doubt, go see someone quickly,” Castleberry said.

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