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Rare flesh-eating bacteria kills fisherman

Aug. 9, 2002 at 1:03 PM   |   Comments

BOSTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- A Massachusetts retiree has died from a rare form of flesh-eating bacteria he apparently contracted while fishing, a report said Friday.

It started with a sore little finger.

Albert Holt Jr., 69, of Marion, Mass., an avid fisherman, was hooked in both hands last month while taking a bluefish off a line.

His son was able to cut one of the hooks out, but the other had to be removed at a hospital.

Two weeks later, on July 15, he came home from another fishing trip in his 24-foot homemade skiff complaining of soreness in his pinkie finger.

According to Friday's New Bedford Standard Times, his wife, Linda, at first did not believe anything was seriously wrong, but as the pain intensified, she took him to Tobey Hospital in Wareham.

A doctor there initially believed the swelling in the finger was just gout, prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug, and sent him home.

A few hours later that night, however, the whole hand had swelled up and turned black, and Holt went back to the hospital. The doctor this time said he had never seen anything like it, and Holt was rushed to the New England Medical Center in Boston.

Doctors there diagnosed Holt's illness as photobacterium damsela, a rare but virulent marine pathogen that advances much quicker than other types of flesh-eating bacteria.

While more common forms of bacteria that eats the soft tissue under the skin -- known as necrotizing fasciitis -- afflict some 1,500 people per year, the New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2000 there were just 17 known cases of the faster-moving bacteria that killed Holt.

Racing against time to stay ahead of the rapidly spreading bacteria, doctors performed surgery four times on Holt over the next 24 hours, first removing his hand, then his arm, then portions of his back and side.

As his vital organs began shutting down in the following days, Holt was put on life support, but that was shut off on July 30, and Holt died 38 hours later.

"He loved fishing, and it was just a freak thing" that he became infected, Linda Holt said.

"It could have been on a fish," she said. "It's a bacteria that lives in the water."

Because Marion is a fishing community, Linda Holt cautioned others who come home from fishing feeling an acute pain or soreness, particularly in an extremity, to take it seriously and immediately see a doctor.

"We wouldn't want what happened to Al to happen to someone else," she said. "It was horrendous."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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