Former first responder fighting flesh-eating bacteria after Harvey

Harvey is forcing Houstonians to deal with new health problems and risks. Flood waters may be gone, but what they leave behind can be dangerous.

HOUSTON - Harvey is forcing Houstonians to deal with new health problems and risks.

Flood waters may be gone, but what they leave behind can be dangerous. Flesh-eating bacteria is just one of the concerns. Locally, one woman died because of it, and one man told KHOU 11 News he is still trying to beat it.

"You can take my hand, that's fine, just keep me alive, we'll be good," said J.R. Atkins, a former first responder.

Doctors diagnosed him with a flesh-eating bacteria.

"I thought it was a mosquito bite that had gone haywire. We all have had those ones that just grow...the next morning when I woke up, it had gone sideways across my wrist," Atkins said.

Three surgeries, 11 days in the hospital, and finally Atkins found out his mosquito bite is the open wound that came into contact with floodwaters in Missouri City during rescues.

"That's why I stuck around. I felt like there was a need to be there for my friends and my neighbors," Atkins said.

Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. Peter Hotez is Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine.

"After Katrina, there are about half a dozen deaths that happened from contact with floodwaters containing that bacteria," Dr. Hotez said.

He says we can learn a lot from the health problems stemming from other natural disasters.

"The one that we are overwhelmingly concerned about are mosquito born virus infections," Dr. Hotez said.

A year after Katrina, West Nile cases doubled, and keep in mind: Zika wasn't even on the radar.

"They can affect everybody, but they often disproportionately affect the poor," he said.

Dr. Hotez says that's because sub-standard housing is often a perfect breeding ground.

"Try to take whatever precautions you can, be it gloves, rain gear, boots," Atkins said.

Take it from this former first responder: protecting your skin, whether it's from deadly bacteria or something as simple as mosquitoes, is key.

Atkins told KHOU 11 News he wouldn't hesitate to do rescues again.

"There's never a doubt. People have asked me that before, and of course, you can't refuse to help people because of the fact that you're afraid of it," he said.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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