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Michigan man dies while helping with Ian recovery in Naples

Posted at 8:10 AM, Oct 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-18 09:08:50-04

NAPLES, Fla. — A Michigan man recently died from a deadly bacteria while trying to help a friend in Florida after Hurricane Ian.

James Hewitt of Jenison, Mich., was described as someone who never missed an opportunity to help someone in need. “He just helped so many people, that’s just what he wanted to do,” said Hewitt’s fiancée, Leah Delano.

After Hurricane Ian, Hewitt traveled to Naples to help a friend who owned property there.

Last weekend, while dealing with his friend’s boat, Hewitt fell into the water and scraped himself. According to Delano, Hewitt applied antibacterial ointment to the cut and moved on.

By Sunday, Hewitt needed to go to the hospital, after his leg had swollen and was in pain. Doctors diagnosed him with vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria found in warm salty or brackish waters, that can enter through open wounds.

“It goes after your vital organs and it leaves you with horrible blisters near the area,” said Delano. “He got scratched on his leg and it was unrecognizable.”

About 1 in 5 people die from vibrio vulnificus, with immunocompromised individuals more at risk.

Howlett’s family wants to raise awareness about vibrio vulnificus for others. “This is not to say 'don’t go down there', it’s not to say Florida is a horrible, dangerous place, because it’s not – it’s full of beautiful, wonderful people,” said Delano. “But if you’re going to go into a disaster area, whether it’s Florida or another state, be prepared.”

Delano advises people to do research on an area ahead of time, and to recognize any limitations. She also hopes that telling Howlett’s story will help others, just like he always tried to.

“He always helped people, always,” said Delano. “And if we can do that… God only know if we’ve managed to do that, but at least we’re trying.”

According to the CDC, post-hurricane conditions may pose an increased risk for the spread of common infectious diseases, like influenza, along with less common illnesses like leptospirosis and Hepatitis A. To protect yourself, the CDC recommends good hygiene, disinfecting water for washing, and paying attention to public announcements for whether water is safe. The CDC also recommends boiling water and using bottled water when necessary. Other recommendations include limiting contact with stray animals and keeping pets on leashes or in carriers until conditions improve.

A link to more CDC recommendations can be found here.