Florida

Flesh eating bacteria strikes again on Florida beach

‘Don’t go into the water’ warns vibrio victim’s daughter

Waveland, Miss. resident Ronald Winnert lost his leg to vibrio, a flesh eating bacteria he came into contact with while fishing. People can become infected by consuming raw or undercooked seafood or exposing a wound to seawater.
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Waveland, Miss. resident Ronald Winnert lost his leg to vibrio, a flesh eating bacteria he came into contact with while fishing. People can become infected by consuming raw or undercooked seafood or exposing a wound to seawater.

An annual vacation tradition to the Florida Panhandle took a turn for the worse for a Dothan Ala. family last week when one of the family members came down with a case of flesh-eating bacteria.

According to WDHN, Tony Meridith started to get flu-like symptoms about five days after his family returned to Alabama from the trip to Panama City. He went to see his doctor and was initially diagnosed with a kidney infection. But as soon as his leg began to turn purple, he went to his local emergency room.

The doctors performed a bacterial culture and said, “It was a type of strep, but then on Tuesday, when he’d come and seen me, he told me it was the flesh-eating kind,” Meridith told WDHN.

Doctors began antibiotics to kill the infection and Meridith appears to be on the mend, but acknowledges, “I almost lost my leg, or my life.”

Meredith said he had a barely noticeable scratch below his knee when he entered the water off Panama City. According to Florida health officials, it is the first recorded case of 2019 for Panama City, but others have been infected at various popular Florida destinations this year.

According to People.com, nine Florida families have come forward to report their stories to the public and three have died, including a 77-year-old Ellenton woman whose family said she contracted the bacteria off of Anna Maria Island.

Still, the Centers for Disease Control reports that flesh-eating infections are rare, though as many as 1,500 cases are reported each year. Those with compromised immune systems are most at risk, but everyone is cautioned about going into warm waters with open cuts.

“Practicing good hygiene is crucial to 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.”

So what is flesh-eating bacteria?

It is a member of the Group A Streptococcus, most often associated with such illnesses as strep throat and scarlet fever. While those illnesses are contagious, the Vibrio vulnificus, or flesh-eating bacteria is not.

The infection spreads rapidly and symptoms include:

  • A red or swollen area of skin that spreads quickly.
  • Severe pain, including pain beyond the area of the skin that is red or swollen.
  • Fever.

Later symptoms include:

  • Ulcers, blisters, or black spots on the skin.
  • Changes in the color of skin.
  • Pus or oozing from the infected area.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Diarrhea or nausea.

Those most at risk include people with:

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

The CDC reports that diagnosing flesh-eating bacteria promptly will save life and limb, but that it can be difficult to detect, which is why it is important to seek medical treatment quickly and communicate with medical professionals about recent water activities.

Preventative steps for those at-risk people and for anyone with open wounds include:

  • Avoid hot tubs.
  • Avoid swimming pools.
  • Avoid all natural bodies of water.

According to the CDC, one-third of those infected will die after contracting the bacteria and many more will suffer long-term disabilities with injured or loss of limbs. The bacteria can enter the body through:

  • Cuts and scrapes.
  • Burns.
  • Insect bites.
  • Puncture wounds (including those due to intravenous or IV drug use).
  • Surgical wounds
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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