Flesh-Eating Bacteria From Harvey Floodwaters Kills Woman

Flesh-Eating Bacteria From Harvey Floodwaters Kills Woman
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol via Flickr
A Houston woman has died after contracting a flesh-eating bacteria from Hurricane Harvey floodwaters.

On Tuesday, the Harris County medical examiner's office discovered that 77-year-old Nancy Reed's Sept. 15 death was caused by necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria. Reed contracted the disease when she fell and broke and cut her arm inside her son's flooded Kingwood neighborhood home.

Her open, untreated cut in the contaminated floodwaters attracted some kind of bacteria, likely strep, E. coli, or staph. While fasciitis can be treated with antibiotics, it tears through soft tissue quickly — making it hard to catch before turning fatal. It's very rare for the infection to spread to other people.

Another case of necrotizing fasciitis from a bug bite in Harvey waters sent one first responder to the hospital on Sept. 7, but immediate antibiotic administration and surgery stopped its potentially fatal spread. 

These kinds of infections aren't uncommon after serious flooding in an urban area. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 30 evacuees had contracted Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA), a type of soft tissue bacterial infection and 24 cases of infections from flesh-eating bacteria found in seawater.

Reed is Harris County's 36th Harvey-related death, according to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.