What to know about flesh-eating bacteria as concerns grow in Tampa Bay area

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – After two recent cases involving people visiting Florida Gulf beaches and being attacked by flesh-eating bacteria, there is growing concern over whether our beaches are safe.

“We’ve been to beaches all over the world and had pretty good luck,” said Matt Smith, who’s with his family visiting from Indiana.

That luck can run out – like it did for two people visiting Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches in June.

A 12-year-old girl in Destin almost lost a leg to necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria. Three surgeries later, she will need to learn to walk again.

The second case happened here in the Tampa Bay area.

“So we said, ok, next beach trip we’re going to Coquina. That Friday we went to Coquina Beach,” Wade Fleming said, recalling a conversation he had with his mother.

It would be the last time Lynn Fleming would go to a beach with her family. After getting a small cut on her shin, she too was attacked by the flesh-eating bacteria lurking in the water. After a week and a half, her family says she died.

“I’m not blaming anybody, but the system needs to be fixed now. Let’s get the people educated now,” said Wade.

Medical experts say people should not be afraid of the beach, but be aware.

If you have a wound, watch for these signs:

  • Large red streaks coming away from a cut
  • Crunchiness under the skin
  • Heat radiating near the cut
  • Pus leaking from the wound
  • Intense pain

“We’ve all had cuts at the beach if we live around here. We know kind of what that feels like. If within a few hours it hurts more than what you would expect it to hurt, that’s a bad sign,” said Dr. David Wein, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Tampa General Hospital.

That could be a bad gamble for those who don’t know what to do.

“I think it’s important to know the warning signs and people should be aware of it,” Smith said.


The CDC describes necrotizing fasciitis as a “rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly in the body and can cause death.” The organization says accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment and prompt surgery are key to stopping the infection.

According to the CDC, group A strep bacteria is thought to be the most common cause of necrotizing fasciitis. The bacteria can enter the body through:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Burns
  • Insect bites
  • Puncture wounds (including those from intravenous or IV drug use)
  • Surgical wounds
  • Injuries that don’t break the skin (blunt trauma)

The CDC says necrotizing fasciitis can cause serious complications like sepsis, shock and organ failure. Even with treatment, the CDC says one in three people who get necrotizing fasciitis die from the infection.

Necrotizing fasciitis can infect anyone but the CDC says most who get it have other health problems like:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver
  • Cancer

The CDC says these are the best ways to prevent a bacterial skin infection:

  • Clean minor cuts and injuries that break the skin (even blisters and scrapes) with soap and water
  • Clean and cover draining or open wounds with clean, dry bandages until they heal
  • See a doctor for puncture wounds and any other deep or serious wounds
  • Wash hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Take care of fungal infections like athlete’s foot
  • Avoid spending time in hot tubs, swimming pools and natural bodies of water if you have an open wound or skin infection

You can learn more about necrotizing fasciitis on the CDC website.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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