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Tarpon Springs fisherman infected with vibrio vulnificus which can become 'flesh-eating'

"Thank God we got it in time"
Posted at 4:05 PM, Aug 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-01 20:04:28-04

A Tarpon Springs boat captain said he was enjoying a rare day off on July 22 fishing with his grandson when he became infected with vibrio vulnificus.

George Billiris said he was in knee to calf-deep water in a canal near Anclote Gulf Park.

"I noticed actually when I was there, there was a strong flow of water, okay, so it wasn't like it was stagnant. There was a pretty good flow," Billiris said. "The water appeared to be fairly clear. The water temperature felt cool."

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Within 24 hours of getting out of the water, Billiris says a scab on his left calf got inflamed.

"An intense burning pain starts, like an intense burning pain," Billiris said. "Just started getting red. I had a hard time walking on it, and then I started getting a fever and chills."

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Via FaceTime from his hospital bed at Mease Countryside, Billiris talked to ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska. He showed us the part of his leg that was infected.

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"The main part of the infection is right where that bandage is it had spread up to my knee," Billiris said.

Billiris says the bacteria made it into his bloodstream, but did not turn into necrotizing fasciitis — a skin condition where the bacteria begins eating the cells of the skin.

"Thank God we got it in time," Billiris said.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "People with a Vibrio vulnificus infection can get seriously ill and need intensive care or limb amputation. About 1 in 7 people with a Vibrio vulnificus wound infection dies. CDC estimates that Vibrio vulnificus causes about 205 infections in the United States every year."

Billiris said he expects to be in the hospital through the weekend. Once he is healed, he plants to get back out on the water where he operates and owns St. Nicholas Boat Line, a business operating in Tarpon Springs since 1924.

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"I love the water and stuff," Billiris said. "I'll make sure that I don't have any open wounds before I get in the water. The cases are so rare, if you look at the percentage for people in the water, don't be afraid to go in the water just take certain precautions."

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