A Bryan County man is in critical condition after his family says a flesh-eating bacteria infected his arm after he went fishing in the Ogeechee River.
Joseph Allen was on a fishing trip Tuesday in the Ogeechee River, when something went wrong with his boat.
WTOC spoke to the man's family as they sent out a warning to the public.
"He had to get out of his boat and he actually went in over his head. He actually had a sore on the side of his right arm about the size of a post-it stamp. When he got out of the water, he couldn't stand up. We called EMS to check him out. They said he could go home. He was just exhausted," said Braxton Jeffers, brother in law.
The next day, Allen began to run a 104 degree fever.
"The arm that had the little cut on it was now purple from the wrist to the shoulder. The sore was the size of a $1 bill, and it was swollen. They told his wife, 'You have one of two diseases, and both of them are flesh eating,'" said Jeffers.
"My husband is very active. He is a mechanic. He takes care of everything at our home, and now he is going to be incapacitated in ICU a week and the hospital for four weeks. I am asking the public to be aware of where your children are. Let's try to get the Savannah Riverkeeper, the EPA, and government; someone involved that will clear up this river," said Gladys Allen.
"He came close to losing his life; now his arm; and this disease is in the Ogeechee River, according to the doctor. There are people swimming in this river; eating the fish out of this river," said Jeffers.
"This is a river-born disease. It is Necrotizing Fasciitis. It spread so rapidly," Allen said.
"It can be a very minor cut that gets exposed to a dirty area, or you already have some bacteria on your skin and that small cut between that wonderful barrier that we have between the inside of our body and the outside of our body is call skin, and a very minor injury can develop a much deeper infection, and that's when the emergency occurs," said infectious disease doctor Dr. Richard Roth, M.D.
Infectious disease doctors like Roth say necrotizing fasciitis, commonly described as the flesh eating bacteria, is a skin infection caused by a variety of different bacteria and can be picked up almost anywhere, like dirty water or contaminated surfaces. The open wound, like a cut or a dog bite, is how the bacteria gets into your skin causing almost immediate symptoms.
"Significant swelling, high fever, pain at the area, especially if you're a compromised host like a diabetic, liver disease, a transplant patient someone requiring immunosuppressive, these types of patients should see emergency helps very quickly," said Roth.
While necrotizing fascitis is rare and not contagious, this is at least the third case reported on in Georgia in the last few years. About two years ago a Bryan County firefighter died from it, and Georgia woman lost several body parts to the disease after a zip line accident.
It's a harsh reality that, in many cases, may be the only solution to stopping the infection.
"There are only about three of four surgical emergencies in infectious diseases, and one of those is necrotizing fasciitis, and it progresses in hours," said Roth. "It's not something where you wait for it until tomorrow."
The family just hopes something will be done to warn others of the possible dangers lurking in the Ogeechee River.
Allen will remain in ICU for the next week and will have to undergo skin grafts and therapy for the next few weeks in the hospital.
Doctors had to remove the majority of the flesh from Allen's arm to prevent the infection from spreading.
The Health Dept. said the best way to prevent this is to clean and cover wounds and don't swim if you do have an open wound.