A walk on an Anna Maria Island beach resulted in an Ellenton, Fla., woman’s death, according to her family.
Carolynn Fleming, known as Lynn, contracted necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating bacteria, while at Coquina Beach two weeks ago and died on Thursday, her family told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Fleming had come back from a walk on the beach when her son, Wade, noticed she was bleeding from the shin.
“She fell where there was a little divot in the ocean, she hit a rock or something and cut her shin,” Traci Fleming, Fleming’s daughter-in-law, told the Herald-Tribune. “It wasn’t really a big deal; she had a little bump. We got an ice pack out of the cooler and the lifeguard cleaned it and went on his way.”
But two weeks later, the 77-year-old Fleming was dead.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare bacterial infection that most commonly enters the body through a break in the skin, and can lead to sepsis, shock and organ failure. Even with treatment, as many as one in three people die from the infection, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
Wade and Traci Fleming and their two children came to Florida from Pittsburgh, Lynn Fleming’s original home. On the family’s last day of vacation, June 14, Lynn Fleming took them to Coquina Beach, one of her favorite spots, they said.
The family spent the rest of the day together and then went to dinner. Lynn Fleming didn’t complain about the cut at all, Traci Fleming said.
Two days later, Fleming’s leg was red and swollen, and she went to an urgent-care clinic, where she was prescribed antibiotics and given a tetanus shot.
The next day, Lynn Fleming’s friends found her at home unconscious, and her shin was black. An ambulance took her to Manatee Memorial Hospital, where she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis.
Doctors attempted to save her infected leg with several surgeries. She was transported to Blake Medical Center, where she was put on life support. She died on June 27, after suffering two strokes and organ failure during surgeries to save her leg, Traci Fleming said.
“There are so many things we keep replaying that we could’ve done differently,” Traci Fleming said. “We had never heard of necrotizing fasciitis. We didn’t know to look for any signs. If we had known to look for signs we could’ve stopped it. I was told my whole life that salt water is good for cuts.”
Problems with an open wound
The deadly disease can be caused by different strains of bacteria, like group A strep or Vibrio vulnificus. The CDC recommends avoiding swimming pools, hot tubs and natural bodies of water if you have an open wound.
Paul Gulig, an expert on necrotizing fasciitis and professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the University of Florida, said that the bacteria is more common in Florida because of the warm water.
“Necrotizing fasciitis likes warm, lower salinity water, so you’re more likely to find it on intracoastal side than the beach side,” Gulig said. “If you have an open cut, you shouldn’t be swimming in any water. When it gets in the skin tissue, it grows faster than it does in the lab. That’s why people die within days. It’s one of the fastest-growing infections.”
Since 2010, approximately 700 to 1,200 cases of necrotizing fasciitis occur each year in the United States, according to the CDC, and the number of infections does not appear to be rising.
Earlier this month, a 12-year-old girl contracted necrotizing fasciitis on a beach in Destin and survived after three surgeries.
“If you catch it early, it’s treatable with antibiotics,” Gulig said. “But by the time you see that (black skin), they’re probably going to be checking out.”
If you have an open wound that touched the water and you see anything that resembles an infection, Gulig said you should see a doctor immediately.
There are no vaccines to prevent group A strep infections, like necrotizing fasciitis. The condition is rare, and everyone is susceptible to it, but people who have diabetes, kidney disease, scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver, or cancer are more likely to contract the disease, the CDC reports.
Early symptoms of the infection are often mistaken for the flu and include high fever, sore throat, stomach ache, nausea, diarrhea, chills and general body aches.
“We’ve been trying to make people more aware of the disease especially in the Gulf,” Traci Fleming said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t know about necrotizing fasciitis and didn’t get her real help until five days later. I wish the lifeguards were more properly trained to tell people if they have cuts don’t go in the water.”