Jean-Paul Arguello / Houma Courier
Don Boudreaux was heavily medicated Monday as he sat at home with his left leg wrapped in gauze from his foot to his knee.
“It's pain all day long, especially when I get out of the bed,” he said. “All of the blood flows down to my leg. I scream. I holler. I even cry, I'll tell you.”
The 37-year-old Bayou Blue man is one of two area residents who contracted the flesh-eating bacteria vibrio vulnificus last month.
He got the potentially deadly disease Aug. 12 while shrimping near Delcambre. Lois Domangue, 69, of Chauvin, believes she got it from cutting her hand while cleaning a crab Aug. 16.
Boudreaux's mother, Linda, said it's hard to watch her son cope.
“It breaks your heart when the nurses come and they're trying to not hurt him, but the pain is just unbearable,” she said.
As of Sunday, there have been 11 cases of vibrio vulnificus in Louisiana this year, according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals. By the same time in 2012, there were seven cases, and on Sept. 15, 2011, there were 13 cases.
The bacteria lives in warm and salty or brackish water and can cause an infection that may lead to skin breakdown and ulceration. It can result in septic shock, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The infection has a rapid onset, with symptoms showing within 12 hours, said Dr. Mary Eschete, an infectious disease doctor with Terrebonne General Medical Center.
“If someone has an injury in salt or brackish water and it becomes painful and red rapidly, which means over 12 to 24 hours, they should seek care immediately at an emergency room,” Eschete said.
Boudreaux will be speaking Thursday with his doctor about the next course of action in his treatment. Either the doctors will use a skin graft from pig skin or a new vacuum-assisted closure treatment for his wound.
Boudreaux's immune system has a high risk of rejecting skin grafted from his body because he is diabetic, his mother said. So they are considering pig skin.
Like Boudreaux, Domangue is also living with a lot of pain. On a scale of 1 to the highest level of 10, she described her morning discomfort as a 15.
“When I take my medicine, it'll go down to an 8 or a 7,” she said. “But the pain stays with me.”
Domangue said her doctor is discussing with her the possibility of grafting some skin onto the wound, which covers a 3-inch by 8-inch area of her hand.
Despite her pain, Domangue remains active.
“I am as active as I possibly can be with one hand,” she said, adding she has regained about 60 percent of her mobility.
Doctors told Domangue to stay away from raw seafood, but she said she's not sure “because it's one of my favorites. We'll see.”
To avoid a vibrio vulnificus infection, the CDC recommends:
- Not eating raw oysters or other raw shellfish.
- Avoiding cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and their juices.
- Avoiding exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters.
- Wearing protective clothing when handling raw shellfish.
Dr. Eschete also recommends that people who are cut or pricked while in brackish or salt water or from shellfish should wash the wound immediately with copious amounts of fresh water and antibacterial soap.