Flood waters are receding in Houston after the historic rainfall from Hurricane Harvey earlier this month. But the water itself was not the only threat. Flooding breached dozens of waste treatment centers, sending a deluge of bacteria throughout the city. The New York Times reports on the victims of the bacterial spread, including an elderly woman who contracted a rare, “gruesome and often deadly infection commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria” after she fell while evacuating.
Necrotizing fasciitis is an infectious disease contracted via an infected wound. It causes extensive tissue death as the bacteria releases toxins, not “eating” per se, but destroying the flesh. The 77-year-old woman contracted it by breaking her arm while it was submerged in the water inside her flooded home. She died less than two weeks later.
The EPA has yet to release test results for the floodwaters throughout Houston, but preliminary testing paid for by the Times found E. Coli as high as 135 times the safe limit.
Reed was not the only person to contract the disease. Local outlet Houston Chronicle reports that another man, J.R. Atkins, was contaminated with the bacteria via an insect bite as he helped neighbors escape the floodwater. He’s since recovered.
In Houston, and much of the country, waste treatment centers (where stormwater and waste water are either disposed or treated with disinfectant) are routinely located nearer low-income and public housing units. While both Reed and Atkins came into contact with floodwater, the bacteria left behind even after the waters recede still pose threats as residents return to assess damages.