POOR GUY: 15-year-old Jayden Galea was struck down with a serious infection after falling into stagnant flood water following Cyclone Debbie.
POOR GUY: 15-year-old Jayden Galea was struck down with a serious infection after falling into stagnant flood water following Cyclone Debbie. Contributed

Cyclone Debbie bug strikes down schoolboy

A BUG that flared up after Tropical Cyclone Debbie still has people recovering months after catching the aggressive illness.

Jayden Galea, 15, was struck down with a serious infection after falling into stagnant floodwater following the cyclone.

Initially, the family says, doctors diagnosed it as a head cold, but the following day Jayden was rushed to Townsville where he was treated for periorbital cellulitis. The bug had caused an infection behind his eye that was spreading to his brain.

Jayden's grandmother, Carmen Galea, said the 15-year-old had been bedridden for two months since having emergency surgery to remove the infection.

Dr John McIntosh, of the Mackay GP SuperClinic said illnesses like this were "very common", particularly after events like cyclones, due to floodwaters stirring up bacteria, fungus and other contaminants in the area.

"They become a hotbed for infections," he said.

"It's unfortunate for that chap that he had it in his face or eye because that can cause major problems. It's more common for people to get it on their feet or from cuts, whatever parts of the body are exposed to the water.

"So clearly this boy has got an infection in his eye and because that area is around the nose and eyes the drainage goes straight through the back through the brain toward the heart, that area is a higher risk of getting brain infection."

Jayden's grandmother said the family had initially taken him to a GP.

"They just passed it off as a head cold," Mrs Galea said.

"Luckily we decided to go to the hospital because we felt it was something more.

"As soon as we got there his eyes were totally flared up and swollen. They ended up having to fly him to Townsville for surgery. He was in a really serious condition, they said it was a really serious bug, or perhaps even two, that caused it."


According to Jayden's father, Darren Galea, there were other patients at Townsville Hospital, some of them from Mackay, who had been infected by the same or similar bugs.

"There was one kid across from us who was infected and the doctors, when we were speaking to them, had said someone had died from Mackay with a similar thing," he said.

"We're lucky that we got onto it quite quick. Hopefully he will recover fully, but it was pretty scary when we first got back his blood tests and CT scan."

Blue Mountain resident Travis Parry was also hit by a serious infection after handling a lot of wet and rotten debris following the cyclone.

He still has symptoms of infection, months later.

He wrote: "Thirty-nine days before I can see the surgeon for just an initial consultation for my chronic infection and probably two months before actual surgery can be done."

"I haven't been able to breathe properly since Cyclone Debbie, terribly sick twice now, the last time I was sweating bullets and felt like I had a branding iron pressed into my head. I just want my life back."

Immediately after the cyclone, Queensland Health did issue a warning to residents in affected areas to use caution when venturing outside during clean-ups and near floodwater, still or flowing.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young said at the time that residents should wear protective clothing and stay out of water entirely, to avoid injuries, cuts, scratches and infections from contaminated water.

"It could be contaminated with chemicals, sewerage, snakes and more," she said.

Dr Steven Donohue, a Public Health physician for Mackay Base Hospital and Townsville Hospital, said while his heart went out to those suffering from serious illness, he hadn't seen any evidence of widespread illnesses or infections associated with the cyclone.

"...It's not always possible to prove a connection," he said. "People involved in a tragedy such as a severe illness will often look back and wonder what the cause is.

"We have seen a small increase in a rare disease called melioidosis and this is associated with mud.

"The bacteria is normally in deeper soil layers but during wet weather it can be found in surface layers and in muddy water.

"There have been five cases of melioidosis, however, no widespread infections.

"This is why we always advise people avoid unnecessary contact with dirt, mud and floodwater and to wear boots and gloves when cleaning up."

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