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‘The Choice Is Life or Limbs.’ A Man Is Fighting for His Life After Getting a Flesh-Eating Bacterial Infection While Crabbing

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Updated: | Originally published: ;

A New Jersey man may be forced to choose between “life or limbs” after contracting a flesh-eating bacteria while fishing for crabs in the Maurice River.

Angel Perez’ symptoms began after crabbing near Matts Landing in Southern New Jersey, NJ.com reports. The Millville resident’s troubles began with severe pain and swelling in his right leg, and quickly grew to include swelling and blisters all over his body, as well as red, raw skin. Perez’ daughter, Dilena Perez-Dilan, told NJ.com that her father’s condition is due to infection from Vibrio vulnificus, a type of flesh-eating bacteria.

“The choice is life or limbs,” Perez-Dilan told CBS Philadelphia. She told NJ.com that doctors at Cooper University Hospital are waiting to see if Perez, 60, responds to antibiotics before deciding whether they must amputate any or all of his limbs.

Vibrio vulnificus infections are rare — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sees only about 200 open wound cases a year, according to the agency — but severe. About one in seven people with the infection dies, according to the CDC, and limb amputations are common. Most cases happen after an open wound comes into contact with “brackish or salt water,” or after eating raw or undercooked shellfish, according to the CDC.

Megan Sheppard, a health officer at the Cumberland County Department of Health, says this type of bacteria is common and naturally occurring in New Jersey waters, especially in the summertime. She advised residents to use caution before entering the water, especially in areas — like the one where Perez was crabbing — that are not approved for recreational swimming.

“Avoid any kind of salt water or brackish water if you do have any open wounds, especially if you’re immune-compromised,” Sheppard recommends. If you do have open wounds, cover them before entering water and clean them after exiting.

As for Perez, his daughter says he and his family are relying on their faith to guide them through the situation.

“We’ve all been praying and I think our spirituality, our religion, has been allowing us to get through without going into a chaotic mess,” Perez-Dilan told CBS.

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com