FLESH-EATING bacteria found in Northern Rivers waterways has struck down another victim on the Far North Coast.
A 79-year-old Ballina man was infected at Prospect Lake, East Ballina, where he regularly paddles his surf ski to keep fit.
His son found him in crippling pain on Father’s Day and rushed him to hospital.
The infection has caused extensive damage to both his legs and he remains in a serious condition in the intensive care unit at Lismore Base Hospital, where he underwent surgery yesterday to treat the wounds.
The man and his family, while asking for anonymity, are shocked at the extent of the infection and hope to warn others of the danger.
Dr John Burrell, a specialist physician at Lismore Base Hospital, says it is the fourth case in 12 months and it has already claimed one life.
Two other infections were from the river at Evans Head, and a fourth from the river at Ballina.
“It’s a flesh-eating bacteria which I’ve seen before on the NSW Central Coast,” he said.
“I’ve seen people with this come into hospital and have both their legs amputated within a day because of the seriousness of the infection. All presentations were elderly, usually with under-lying health issues like kidney failure, liver disease or diabetes.”
Dr Burrell has issued a warning to people swimming in sea water at estuaries and rivers to be aware of the symptoms and get to a doctor quickly if they think they are infected.
“The early symptoms usually show up within a day or two and include swelling in the legs, redness, pain, oozing from open wounds and maybe a fever,” he said.
“The critical public health issue is a lot of doctors don’t understand the association with sea water and therefore don’t ask the patient about it.
“That’s the important message. When you present with an infection in your legs you have to tell your doctor if you’ve been in sea water, because if they pick the wrong antibiotic your chances of a bad outcome are greater.
“While it’s a rare infection, people with under-lying symptoms or open wounds should avoid the estuaries and rivers, though the ocean is probably okay.”
Dr Burrell added it wasn’t a water quality issue.
“It’s nothing to do with pollution or contamination,” he said.
“It’s a normal part of the ecosystem.”
Meanwhile, the remarkably fit 79-year-old was still in obvious pain, but keen to warn other water-goers.
“Give them a photograph,” he quipped. “A thousand dollars a leg.”
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