Two men recently contracted flesh-eating bacterial infections through water in the Tampa Bay area. Doctors are encouraging residents and visitors to the region to be cautious, especially around brackish water.
Barry Briggs, a tourist from Ohio, was infected in March while boating near Weedon Island. He needed immediate surgery to save his foot.
Last week, Mike Walton was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico when the bacteria infected him through a cut on his hand. He was taken to Tampa General Hospital with a case of necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection that causes tissue death.
The bacteria tends to infect people through tears in the skin, including cuts, burns and insect bites. Fever and red swollen areas of skin are signs that one may have necrotizing fasciitis. Doctors usually use strong antibiotics or surgery if they believe a patient is infected.
Doctor Seetha Lakshmi is an assistant professor in the University of South Florida’s Infectious Disease and International Medicine Department. She wants people to seek medical attention as soon as possible if they think they have contracted the disease.
“Any time we see this, we’re always on our mark. We want to do the best thing right away,” said Lakshmi.
According to the CDC, different types of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis, but group A Streptococcus is the most common.
The bacterial infection progresses rapidly, so quick diagnosis and treatment are important to stop it. In some cases it can lead to sepsis, shock, and organ failure. It can also cause patients to lose limbs.
“The reason it is severe is the speed. So, once the bacteria gets into the wound, they have the ability to progress quickly and time is of essence,” said Lakshmi.
About one-third of the people with necrotizing fasciitis die from the infection, even with treatment.
There are some precautions people can take against the disease. Taking care of wounds by cleaning and covering them is good practice. Those with open wounds should avoid hot tubs, pools, and natural bodies of water. People should also wash their hands often.
“I’m part of the community. I have kids and family that go to the beach and I tell my family the same thing: that you always have to be very careful. Don’t get into the brackish water with an open wound,” said Lakshmi.