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Man Dies After Contracting Rare Flesh-Eating Bacteria In O.C.

OCEAN CITY, Md. (WJZ) -- A 67-year-old man has died after his family says he contracted a flesh-eating bacteria on the Eastern Shore.

For more than 30 years, Mike Funk spent countless hours on the water--but a typical summer in Ocean City ended in tragedy.

"It seemed surreal. I didn't know anything like this existed in waters in Ocean City," said Marcia Funk, wife.

The horror began Sunday, September 11, as the Funks were getting ready to head back to Arizona for the winter.

While packing up their boat out of Assawoman Bay, Mike entered the water with an open sore on his leg.

By Tuesday, the 67-year-old knew something was wrong.

"I said, 'What's the matter?' He said, 'I don't feel good. I'm throwing up,'" his wife said.

Vomiting turned into agonizing pain in his leg. It landed him in the hospital, where his legs swelled up and his kidneys started to fail.

Marcia Funk says doctors told her that her husband contracted vibrio vulnificus.

"I said, 'What is it?' And they said, 'You would know it as a flesh-eating bacteria,'" she said.

Funk was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where doctors hoped amputating his leg would stop the infection--but it didn't. He was put on life support and later died.

Maryland health officials won't comment on the specific case, but say they deal with at least 30 to 50 reports of vibrio each year--some fatal.

"This year, we're running a little on the high side of that number," said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Doctors say the bacteria lives in warm salt waters, generally impacting people with weak immune systems.

"People should be concerned, especially if they have conditions, immune disorders, if they have liver disease," Dr. Mitchell said. "Most of the cases we can say come from wound infections, skin infection, consumption of raw shellfish."

It's one reason why Marcia Funk wants warnings blasted out along the coast.

"It is real. It's out there, and it will kill you," she said.

Doctors urge people to be more cautious, saying those with wounds should cover them up when going in the water, or avoid going in altogether.

Ocean City Today was the first to report the story.

According to the CDC, vibrio causes 100 deaths in the U.S. every year.

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