Flesh-eating bacteria claims another life at Florida beach, family says

A Florida Panhandle woman said her father died this week from a flesh-eating bacteria after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico in Destin, just two weeks after a 12-year-old girl contracted the bacteria in the same area.

Tennessee resident Dave Bennett, 64, was visiting his daughter Cheryl who lives in Niceville last week. In a Facebook post that is circulating social media, Bennett said she was extra careful about her parents swimming in the gulf following recent media reports, especially about the girl who got infected at the same beach her parents wanted to go to.

“My parents were coming down to stay with me in Florida about a week after the post about a 12-year-old girl contracting bacteria that turned into necrotizing fasiitis in Destin started circling around,” Bennett wrote. “I didn’t want to believe that ... Our county, Okaloosa County, posted an article titled “Rumor Control,” in response to the post which seemed to diffuse everyone’s fears.”

Bennett’s death comes on the heels of Ellenton resident Lynn Fleming who died after contracting the bacteria at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island.

Bennett said she inspected her father’s skin for the smallest abrasions and even sealed up some smaller healed scratches she found on her father just in case.

“We were taking precautions and we were good, so I thought,” Bennett wrote.

Bennett said her father was fine through a weekend of various water activities but by Saturday morning that all began to change.

Twelve hours after he was last in the water, her father came down with a fever. Bennett said her father was a recovering cancer patient so the family never took chances when he wasn’t feeling well. They took him to the doctor and as he was being examined, a large black discolored area of skin was located on his back.

“It felt like someone had sucker punched me,” Bennett wrote.

The family followed advice from the Centers for Disease Control that people tell medical personnel immediately that they were in the water if they show signs of a possible flesh-eating bacteria.

“One person told (my mom) that the media had blown that out of proportion,” Bennett said.

Bennett said medical staff assumed it was a staph infection and wouldn’t biopsy the wound, but started him on antibiotics.

Less than 48 hours later, the bacteria, “destroyed him,” Bennett said, which led to organ failure and her father was dead.

Bennett said she is sharing her story because officials refuse to post warning signs to the public that the bacteria is present on Florida beaches.

“I would have never have taken my dad in the water if there as a bacteria advisory,” she said.

Bennett said in her post, she isn’t try to scare anyone out of the water, but, “People do need to know how to be more cautious and how to recognize the symptoms. There is information out there, but I didn’t find it all until it was too late. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

The family is planning a Celebration of Life for her father on July 20.

Bennett’s immune system was compromised from his battle with cancer, which put him at risk, according to the CDC.

Those most at risk include people with:

  • Diabetes.
  • Kidney Disease.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Cancer.
  • Anyone with a compromised immune system.

The CDC recommends that anyone in these categories or anyone with open wounds no matter how small:

  • Avoid hot tubs.
  • Avoid swimming pools.
  • Avoid all natural bodies of water.
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Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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