A man who had just gotten a tattoo died after going swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. The new wounds got infected with flesh-eating bacteria that live in ocean water, health authorities say.
The 31-year-old man had just gotten a tattoo on his right calf, Live Science reports. Tattoo artists and doctors alike generally recommend that those who get tattoos avoid swimming until the tattoo heals, but the man went into the water just five days after getting inked, the report published in BMJ Case Reports states.
After a few days, he came down with fever and chills, and his tattoo and other parts of his legs turned red. The man checked into a hospital, but his skin soon acquired painful lesions that turned purple, and large blisters filled with fluid appeared.
The man’s quick deterioration alerted doctors that he might be infected with Vibrio vulnificus, flesh-eating bacteria that thrives in warm coastal waters.
In rare situations, the bacteria enters the body through open wounds – such as a tattoo – and destroys tissues, causing life-threatening infections in the blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, the patient had also suffered from alcoholic cirrhosis, a liver disease caused by consuming copious amounts of alcohol that is linked to an increased risk for the bacterial infection. The man was treated with antibiotics, but he underwent septic shock, which happens when an infection results in low blood pressure.
The hospital administered further treatments, including medicines to raise his blood pressure and to clean the wounds, and the patient saw an improvement. In a few weeks, he was well enough to start rehabilitation. But his condition took a turn for the worse, and two months later, the man died due to further complications in the liver, kidney, and tissue destroyed in his skin lesions.
The bacteria can be fatal, but the CDC says serious illness is rare. Among 80,000 Americans who get infected with V. vulnificus each year, around 100 people die from complications caused by the infection.