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Flesh-eating bacteria claims second life after Hurricane Harvey

Creatas/Thinkstock(GALVESTON, Texas) -- Scores of Texans died when Hurricane Harvey unleashed a biblical storm with massive surgewaters and devastating wind gusts that punished the area.

The rebuilding effort has also been difficult -- and tragic.

On Oct. 16, a carpenter in Galveston, Texas, named Josue Zurita lost his life after a flesh-eating bacteria caused a disease called necrotizing fasciitis that spread through his body.

Zurita, 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."

The 31-year-old was hospitalized for a "wound on his upper left arm," according to the Galveston County Health District statement. That's when the lethal bacteria was detected, though officials believe he had been infected days earlier. Necrotizing fasciitis kills the connective tissue around muscles, blood vessels, nerves and fat, as the bacteria spreads through the body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 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 Galveston County Local Health Authority's Dr. Philip Keiser.

The Mexican native moved to the U.S. back in 1986 "to help his family," the obituary states, and dedicated himself to helping Harvey-stricken victims rebuild.

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

Zurita is the second fatal victim of what the Galveston County Health Department called a quick-spreading "rare bacterial infection that kills soft tissue" and can lead to organ failure.

A month prior, a Houston resident named Nancy Reed, 77, passed away at home from the same infection, 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 contracting the same deadly bacteria from an infected insect bite on his arm while lending aid to Missouri City storm survivors in September.

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

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

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

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