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AP Florida

Woman, 84, attacked by rare bacteria in Gulf, loses leg


Published:   |   Updated: August 2, 2013 at 02:16 PM

A rare bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico has left a woman fighting for her life in a Naples hospital.

WBBH-TV in Fort Myers reports that 84-year-old Margaret Freiwald was swimming off Hernando County when she cut her leg while boating in late July.

She was out on a boat with friends and family when she scraped her shin while getting back into the boat. She tried to downplay the cut, her partner said.

"She said it'll be OK, you know, 'Must've turned my ankle or something,' " says Walter Lettau, Freiwald's partner.

Then they went on vacation in Collier County. Within three days, their vacation turned into a nightmare. Freiwald, whose only health complaint was arthritis, became gravely ill.

"It's attacked all her organs. She was suffering kidney failure. She had a heart attack," Lettau said.

Doctors told the family that Freiwald came into contact with a bacterium called vibrio vulnificus. The infection was so aggressive that doctors were forced to amputate her leg above the knee. Her condition has fluctuated, family and friends said.

"Yesterday, I couldn't believe," Lettau said. "I said, 'She looks like she's, you know, doing pretty good.' And then come in today, it's downhill again."

She's now in the intensive care unit.

The CDC says vibrio affects everyone differently. People with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of infection. Vibrio vulnificus can cause disease if people ingest contaminated water or they are exposed to it through open wounds.

According to the Hernando County Health Department, about 14 serious cases are reported throughout the state each year.

Even though Freiwald contracted the bacteria in Hernando, health experts say it can happen anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico. And it is not just the Gulf - the CDC says vibrio can thrive in any warm saltwater body across the country. People can also get vibrio by eating contaminated seafood.

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