Florida woman's death from flesh-eating bacteria shines light on necrotizing fasciitis

Woman killed by flesh-eating bacteria

The family of a Florida woman who say she died after being infected by flesh-eating bacteria at a beach is sounding the alarm. Lynn Fleming, 77, died late last week after walking along a popular Gulf of Mexico beach near her home. 

It is a rare occurrence, but now some communities in Florida are especially concerned. Even when it's diagnosed, the effects can be deadly.

"I'm still numb. You know, tt's two weeks and I lost my mother," Fleming's son, Wade, said. "It's been hard"

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Lynn Fleming

According to her son, Fleming was walking along the beach when she fell and suffered a small cut.

"She didn't know that there was a small ditch there and she stumbled and hit the embankment on the other side," Wade Fleming said. "She had a small little 3/4-inch long cut on her shin bone."

In the days following her fall in the water, Lynn's condition worsened. She was rushed to the emergency room by ambulance and was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but deadly bacterial infection that kills the body's soft tissue.

The infection rapidly spread through Fleming's body. She died only two weeks after her fall. It is believed to be the second case of necrotizing fasciitis at a Florida beach in just the past month.

A 12-year-old girl contracted a similar bacteria while vacationing in the state's panhandle in early June. She survived thanks to fast-acting doctors.

"If the bacteria gets into the bloodstream and causes sepsis and multi-system organ damage, then of course the death rate is much higher," said Dr. William Shaffner, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Up to a third of people who have this serious infection can die from it."

According to the CDC, upwards of 1,200 cases occur in the U.S. each year. Doctors say it must be caught early.

"Fortunately, flesh-eating bacterial infections are not common," Shaffner said. "And the key thing is, of course, if you've had any kind of wound and you start to feel badly, please seek medical attention right away."

Wade Fleming wants people to know the warning signs so others may have a fighting chance.

"Maybe if she was diagnosed a little earlier, you know, maybe we'd be sitting here talking to my mom without a leg, but you know, with a life," Fleming said. 

Doctors say if you have an open wound and you've been in the water, look for early warning signs, including fever, severe pain and a rapidly spreading swollen area.  

Some types of this bacteria can be found in warm brackish water, similar to many spots along the Gulf. A recent study suggests rising ocean temperatures could help the bacteria thrive in waters previously unaffected.