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Shark bacteria bank helps Palm Beach County doctors give precise care

Shark bite surgeon breaks down more than a decade of research on wounds, shark bacteria
Posted at 6:43 PM, Dec 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-05 19:59:34-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Jasmine Carney, 10, of Palm City has come a long way in only a week's time. The child was bitten by a shark at Hobe Sound Beach and is now well on her way to healing.

"I'm feeling really happy about getting out of the hospital so I can see my friends," Carney said.

The work to determine what kind of shark bit Jasmine and the size is progressing as well.

"I have a real interest in it," Dr. Robert Borrego said.

Borrego is the trauma director and chief of surgery at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach.

He also leads the shark bite research team at the hospital. It's a niche group born more than a decade ago after a simple question from the father of a toddler bitten by a shark.

Jasmine Carney leaves Palm Beach Children's Hospital, Dec. 1, 2022
Jasmine Carney, 10, leaves Palm Beach Children's Hospital on the campus of St. Mary's Medical Center, Dec. 1, 2022, in West Palm Beach, Fla., after being bitten by a shark.

"What kind of bacteria is in a shark's mouth?" the father asked.

"We don't know," Borrego replied at the time.

Borrego got to work and swabbed more than 50 sharks at local beaches and in the Bahamas.

"It wasn't easy," Borrego said.

Samples are studied at a lab at St. Mary's Medical Center.

 Dr. Robert Borrego explains how his research helps shark bite victims, giving them the most precise care.
Dr. Robert Borrego explains how his research helps shark bite victims, giving them the most precise care.

"With this now, with all this data, we're more specific about targeting specific bacteria with specific sharks, and it minimizes risk and the cost of having to stay in the hospital," Borrego said.

Borrego said doctors can now target antibiotics used in treatment to prevent infection after a shark bite, rather than casting a wide net in hopes of catching and treating the correct bacteria from a specific shark.

In Jasmine's case, Borrego said his team has determined she was bitten close to shore and likely by a 4- to 5-foot blacktip shark.

Doctors at St. Mary's Medical Center crossed that with their shark bacteria data bank to provide precise, expert care.

"She's able to use her foot very well," Borrego said.

Jasmine has been released from the hospital. Doctors expect she'll make a full recovery in one to two months.