Local News

Cumberland County resident diagnosed with rare infection

Posted June 23, 2009 5:18 p.m. EDT
Updated June 25, 2009 11:40 a.m. EDT

— Cumberland County Health Department officials say a resident has been hospitalized with a rare infection possibly contracted in Hope Mills Lake.

Doctors say the infection is likely caused by a naturally occurring bacterium known as Chromobacterium violaceum. The resident had been swimming in Hope Mills Lake before becoming sick and it is believed that is where the exposure occurred, officials said.

“This is a tragic, isolated case,” Jane Stevens, interim health department director, said in a statement.

Exposure to the bacteria is not rare; however, few people are known to have contracted an infection once exposed. But the infection can eat away at body tissue, said Dr. Lan Tran-Phu, with the health department.

Isolated cases of infection have happened in the U.S. and other countries. Fewer than 150 cases were reported worldwide between 1927 and 2005, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Health Department and the North Carolina Division of Public Health, after consulting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not recommend closing Hope Mills Lake. Because these bacteria are found throughout the environment, the lake is no more risky than other lakes, officials said.

“It (the bacteria) lives everywhere. It is ubiquitous,” Lan Tran-Phu said.

"I’m astounded by it. The fact that even though it is a rare chance, I feel that if the bacteria was caught in this lake, that people should be notified about it,” Hope Mills Lake swimmer John Albree said after hearing about the infected person.

The patient is listed in stable condition at a hospital, officials said.

Officials recommend taking these precautions when swimming in lakes:

  • Choose swimming areas carefully.
  • Avoid getting the water in your mouth, and do not drink or swallow the water.
  • Reduce the risk of water going up your nose by holding your nose shut or using nose clips when taking part in water-related activities.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
  • If you have open wounds or sores, do not swim in natural waters, whether fresh or salt water.
  • Shower with soap and water after swimming or playing in the water.
  • Promptly tend to any wounds, cuts or abrasions you get while in or near the water: thoroughly wash the wound with clean, potable water and soap, and seek a doctor’s care if a rash or swelling develops around the wound or it appears infected.
  • Seek a doctor’s care immediately if you become ill or develop symptoms of an infection.

The CDC Web site also offers more tips for preventing waterborne illness.