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Woman loses leg after Gulf swim

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Published:   |   Updated: July 31, 2013 at 07:04 AM

Two Saturdays ago, Amber Castleman's mother scraped her shin while getting back into a boat anchored between Hernando and Bayport channels.

By Wednesday, Margaret Freiwald, 84, had lost her leg.

"My major concern is we've been here for years, gone in the Gulf forever," Castleman said, explaining most people believe salt water is beneficial to wounds.

"There is a possibility this bacteria is in the water, and I think everyone should be notified there is a damn good chance you'll get it if you have an open wound," Castleman said.

According to Castleman, Freiwald had a "great time" out on the water that Saturday with a group from the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Freiwald left for vacation in Naples the next day and developed leg pain and a fever in the evening.

Emergency room doctors at Naples Community Hospital told Castleman her mother's wound became infected with a bacteria, called Vibrio vulnificus, when she cut herself in the Gulf.

Castleman said even after her mother's leg was amputated, the infection spread to her blood stream, causing sepsis, a heart attack, decreased lung function, fluctuating blood pressure, kidney failure and possibly a gall bladder infection.

"I don't know if she can take another surgery," Castleman told Hernando Today on Tuesday, as doctors planned to close up her wound.

She's concerned her 84-year-old mother didn't know swimming in the Gulf could be dangerous and wants others to get the message.

Hernando County Health Department spokeswoman Ann-Gayl Ellis confirmed her office had been recently notified of a case of Vibrio vulnificus.

Virginia Crandall, director of nursing, and Grace Gifford, epidemiology nurse, said the bacteria "is a natural inhabitant of warm sea water and is more abundant in summer and fall months."

Vibrio vulnificus can be contracted by ingesting contaminated water or contact through open wounds. Individuals with weaker immune systems are at a higher risk for disease and blood infection.

Crandall and Gifford said "immunocompromised persons should avoid sea water if open wounds are present," adding the incubation period for the disease is between five hours and four days.

Ellis explained Vibrio vulnificus is automatically reported to state agencies.

"What I understand from the pros around here is this is not anything new," Ellis said. "It's fairly common in the environment but it's something that is dangerous if the immune system is compromised."

"An average, healthy person probably won't experience the illness," Ellis added.

Vibrio vulnificus is also contracted by eating contaminated raw shellfish, according to the Florida Department of Health website.

On average, 14 cases a year have been reported to the FDOH since 1981, when Vibrio vulnificus became a reportable disease.

More information on the bacteria is available at www.cdc.gov or by calling the health department at (352) 540-6897.

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday .com

(352) 544-5283

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