North Carolina man dies of Florence-related bacterial infection

A North Carolina man considered the “Ambassador of Wilmington” died last week after contracting a bacterial infection while cleaning in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

Ron Phelps, who started the 9,000-member strong Facebook group “Hometown Memories of Wilmington, NC,” wound up in intensive care at New Hanover Regional Medical Center after scraping his leg while working, StarNews Online reported.

He had his leg amputated as a result of the infection, but his niece said he remained in intensive care as his health had taken a turn for the worse. On Sept. 25, his niece Paula Phelps Turner informed the Facebook group that the 85-year-old had died.

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Physicians said they saw an uptick in the amount of Florence-related emergency room visits at the hospital, and warned others about potential storm-related hazards as clean-up efforts continue.

“Be extraordinarily careful,” Dr. De Winter, an ER physician at the hospital told WECT News. “We’ve seen a lot of heat-related illnesses associated with people working outside for long hours, getting tired, and then potentially falling off roofs as well. Also, chainsaw injuries which can be pretty severe, so I would just want everyone to be as careful as possible, and if they don’t feel safe, then hire someone to do it because it’s not worth hurting themselves.”

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It’s not clear what activity Phelps had been doing when he was injured, nor the type of bacterial infection he contracted.

On Thursday, the North Carolina Coastal Federation issued a strong warning for residents to stay out of ocean and intracoastal waters due to heightened levels of potentially harmful bacteria caused by “massive stormwater runoff” from Florence.

Officials warned coastal swimming waters “contaminated with polluted runoff carry bacteria, parasites and viruses that can cause many types of illnesses from minor to severe infections.”

“These illnesses include bacterial infections, earaches, hepatitis, skin rashes and respiratory issues. Stormwater runoff is a known cause for these illnesses,” they said.