BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Fisherman Rene Olier was in the Gulf near Cat Island a few weeks ago when he did something simple that fishermen often do: reach inside a live bait well and pull out some bait.
Olier did this with a bare hand that he says probably had had a small cut or two.
That one move changed his life forever.
"I knew I was getting sick but I didn't know what the problem was," said Olier.
Olier contracted a devastating infection from a salt water bacteria called vibrio vulnificus. In an open wound vibrio v. can cause painful swelling and eat away at the skin. If it gets into the bloodstream, the infection often results in death.
In Olier's case, doctors had to amputate his arm at the shoulder.
"I'm happy to be alive. It could have really went bad the other way. I'm just real happy to be alive," said Olier.
Vibrio v. is a naturally occurring bacteria found it in any salt or brackish water. In the summer, the bacteria count increases with warmer temperatures.
Health officials say only five to 15 people in the state will be infected each year. While that is a small percentage compared to the thousands that spend time in Louisiana waters, infections can be dangerous and have a high death rate. That is why state health officials are urging caution.
"Caught early it can be treated quite well. Caught late, it can some serious consequences," explained State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry.
Guidry says anyone with a weak immune system, or an open wound is at higher risk, and should avoid exposure to salt water. He also says to clean any new cuts immediately, no matter how small. Most importantly, go to the doctor at the first signs of infection including redness, swelling or pain.
"I would bring a first aid kit with me so that I would have some sort of antiseptic or antibiotic so that the moment I had an open wound as it occurred I would be cleaning it off," said Guidry.
So far, officials have reported three vibrio v. cases in Louisiana. In 2013, there were 11 cases total including one death. In 2012, there were 12 cases total and no deaths.