Flesh-eating bacteria claim 2nd life after Hurricane Harvey

PHOTO: Josue Zurita, 31, is seen in a photo posted to his Facebook account on Oct. 12, 2014.PlayJosue Zurita/Facebook
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Scores of Texans died when Hurricane Harvey unleashed a biblical storm with massive storm surges and devastating winds that punished the area.

The rebuilding effort has been difficult — and tragic.

On Oct. 16, Josue Zurita, a carpenter in Galveston, Texas, died after a flesh-eating bacterial infection, necrotizing fasciitis, spread through his body.

Zurita, 31, who went by the nickname "Cochito," according to his obituary, was remembered as a faithful Catholic, "a loyal friend" and "a loving father and hardworking carpenter."

He was hospitalized on Oct. 10 for a "seriously infected wound on his upper left arm," according to a statement from the Galveston County Health District. Officials believe he was infected days earlier. Necrotizing fasciitis kills the connective tissue around muscles, blood vessels, nerves and fat as the bacteria spread through the body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can become fatal very quickly.

"It's most likely this person's infection occurred when bacteria from Harvey debris or floodwater entered his body through a wound or cut," said the Galveston County Local Health Authority's Dr. Philip Keiser.

PHOTO: A boy walks with a bodyboard through a flooded street as the effects of Hurricane Harvey are seen Aug. 26, 2017 in Galveston, Texas. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
A boy walks with a bodyboard through a flooded street as the effects of Hurricane Harvey are seen Aug. 26, 2017 in Galveston, Texas.

Zurita, a native of Mexico, moved to the U.S. "to help his family," according to his obituary.

"He remained to help with the rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey that hit Harris and Galveston counties," reads the obituary. "While working ... he was struck with an illness that claimed his life."

Zurita is the second person in Texas since the hurricane to die of necrotizing fasciitis, which the Galveston County Health District described as a quick-spreading "rare bacterial infection that kills soft tissue" and can lead to organ failure.

A month earlier, a Houston resident, Nancy Reed, 77, died at home from necrotizing fasciitis, according to a breakdown of Harvey-related deaths compiled by the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office.

First responder and former firefighter and medic J.R. Atkins survived after being infected by the deadly bacteria via an insect bite on his arm while lending aid to Missouri City, Texas, storm survivors in September.

Zurita's death has led Galveston County Health District officials push for more awareness of the disease. The agency cautioned the public not to confuse necrotizing fasciitis bacteria with less harmful bacteria found in beach water like Vibrio vulnificus.

Anyone in hurricane-affected areas is cautioned to follow guidelines from the CDC to maintain sanitary habits like washing hands with soap and water, quickly applying first aid to injuries and dressing even minor wounds and cuts with dry bandages.

The CDC estimates there are 700 to 1,100 diagnosed cases of necrotizing fasciitis in the United States each year but says that those numbers are conservative.