Cases of flesh-eating bacteria — or necrotizing fasciitis — are considered rare, but cases are on the rise and the latest victim is Ellenton resident Lynn Fleming.
Fleming’s son, Wade Fleming, told the Bradenton Herald Saturday, that he, his wife, and mother went to Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island two weeks ago.
“She said she was going for a walk, which was pretty typical of her,” Wade Fleming said. “She walked over to where the concrete (groins) stick out into the water and she couldn’t get around the first one so she went over to the second one. I guess the waves had kind of washed a little out from underneath that spot and she stepped in a small depression and fell over.”
The result of the fall led to a small cut that was only about three quarters of inch long. She had small bumps around the wound almost immediately and, “From there it only took two weeks before she was gone,” Wade Fleming said.
Ultimately, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with the flesh-eating bacteria, according to Fox 13. She died after suffering two strokes and organ failure during surgeries to save her leg.
Fleming’s death comes on the heels of an Indiana family saying their 12-year-old daughter contracted a flesh-eating bacteria while vacationing in the beach town of Destin on the Florida Panhandle in the first week of June.
Health officials responded to that case by saying there were no reports of water quality issues in the area, but there doesn’t have to be for the bacteria to be present.
While the Centers for Disease Control considers cases of flesh-eating bacteria to be rare, there are between 500 and 1,500 cases reported annually in the U.S. While the bacteria has typically been limited to warmer waters like the Gulf of Mexico, the CDC is reporting cases are spreading up the Atlantic Coast as far as Delaware and New Jersey.
Five cases hit the Delaware area from 2017-18, either directly in the area or from patients eating infected crabs. Eating contaminated shellfish or entering the water where the bacteria is present with an open wound are the two leading causes of contraction.
Scientists believe warmer ocean temperatures due to climate change are to blame.
According to the CDC, those with compromised immune systems are most at risk for contracting the bacteria.
“Practicing good hygiene is crucial in prevention, as well as properly caring for any and all wounds — which includes keeping them covered with dry, clean bandages,” the CDC reports. “Those with open wounds and active infections should avoid bodies of water, especially swimming pools and hot tubs.”
If you notice anything unusual, especially around an area of a recent cut in the skin, after swimming, you should go to the hospital immediately. Health officials say the sooner someone seeks treatment, the better the chance to limit damage caused by the bacteria and potentially save life and limb.
According to medicinenet.com, reported infections date back to about 1840, but, “It is likely that the disease had been occurring for many centuries before it was first detected in the 1800s,” the website states.
“I want people to be educated,” Wade Fleming said. “I’m not telling anyone not to go the beach. We love the beach, but I’d like to see some information from the paramedics and lifeguards encouraging immediate treatment for even a small nick if they are swimming, and let people know that, hey, this is a possibility.”
Fleming said if it saves one life, it’s worth it.
“If we can avoid one person contracting this just by educating people, then hopefully we can stop this from happening to another person,” he said.