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A North Carolina couple didn’t have to eat the fresh-caught shrimp they bought a few weeks after Hurricane Florence to find out something was wrong with them.
After the husband touched the shrimp, he became infected by a bacteria that left him fighting for his life.
Longtime and now-retired Wake County educators Eddie and Patti Clinton purchased 20 pounds of shrimp from a friend of a friend who harvested them near the New River on Oct. 5, Patti Clinton told The News & Observer in an interview.
“All (Eddie) did was open the bags up, take them out and put them in smaller bags and put them in the freezer,“ Clinton said.
Within about 24 hours, Eddie Clinton began experiencing soreness, shaking, loss of appetite and slurred speech.
By the early hours of Oct. 8, he was on life support at WakeMed hospital in Raleigh, in critical condition and an induced coma, his wife said.
On Oct. 9, doctors determined Eddie had Vibrio vulnificus bacteria in his bloodstream.
People most commonly become infected with vibriosis “by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the CDC says skin infections are possible when brackish or salt water gets in an open wound.
While some versions of Vibrio can last a few days and have no permanent effects, the CDC says about one out of every four Vibrio vulnificus infections is deadly, and that it can kill a person within a day or two.
Doctors suspected Eddie may have wiped his mouth with his hand or that he had a small cut on his hand when handling the shrimp, but they never found an open wound, his wife said.
“Every doctor that saw Eddie said they had never seen anything like this,” she said. “They said they study about it in medical school, but had never seen it.”
North Carolina closed all waters to shellfish harvesting ahead of Hurricane Florence. The state warned that the bottom feeders were more susceptible to contamination spread by floodwaters after the storm, The News & Observer reported.
The state gradually lifted the harvesting ban in some waters where bacteria levels were deemed safe. Some waters in Onslow County, which surrounds the New River, were reopened on the day the shrimp were harvested, but the New River was not among those reopened that day.
Patti Clinton’s son and his family cooked and ate shrimp from the same harvest without incident, she wrote in a post on Facebook, where she has documented the ordeal in detail. “Be careful and use gloves when handling such critters,” she wrote. “If not, this bacteria could kill you.”
A GoFundMe page she created to help with her husband’s looming medical expenses says he overcame a less than 1-percent chance of survival.
Though his health has improved since Oct. 19, when Eddie Clinton was downgraded from critical status, his wife said surgery on both legs Tuesday revealed more damage than expected.
As of Thursday, Eddie Clinton was awaiting a bed at Duke University Hospital, where his wife said doctors will assess whether to amputate.
“The right foot and left leg will be examined,” she said. “We pretty much think they won’t be able to do anything with the left leg. It’s somewhere between both legs need to come off, there’s nothing else to do, or both legs are salvageable.”
The Clintons worked more than 60 combined years in teaching and administration in Raleigh schools.