A Florida woman has died from a flesh-eating bacteria infection two weeks after she cut her leg.
According to the Associated Press, Carolyn “Lynn” Fleming developed a small cut after stumbling at Coquina Beach, a local beach not far from her home, two weeks ago. On Monday, her son Wade Fleming told the site her wound was swollen and continued to bleed.
“She always wanted to move to Florida, but my dad was semi-retired and he was a charter boat captain,” Wade said. “After he died, she pulled the trigger.”
After receiving medical attention, the 77-year-old woman was later diagnosed with the disease. She also suffered two strokes and kidney failure, causing her body to shut down. Last week, she was pronounced dead.
Wade added that his mother was with him and his family when she fell, and after he went back to Pittsburgh, Pa., her symptoms got worse. AP noted that she was given a tetanus shot and antibiotics, but when her friends went to deliver her medicine, Lynn was found semi-conscious.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician at Toronto General Hospital not involved with the case, told Global News the definition of flesh-eating disease is often confusing for some.
Known as necrotizing fasciitis, flesh-eating disease is a rare infection that spreads quickly throughout the body just under the skin. It can also get into the bloodstream, he added.
“There can be several different types of infections,” he continued. “It can also be because of the immune system of the individual that can cause very severe and rapidly progressing infections that are, unfortunately, fatal unless they are cared for immediately.”
Causes of the disease
Bogoch explained that necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by other bacteria, including Group A streptococcus, E. coli and others.
Group A streptococcus, in particular, can be misleading for some, he added.
“Group A streptococcus definitely can cause necrotizing fasciitis, but the vast majority of people who get infected with Group A Streptococcus never get necrotizing fasciitis,” he said.
“Necrotizing fasciitis is still a very rare complication of infection. As scary as it is and as scary as it sounds, it’s still an extraordinarily uncommon infection.”
Another cause of the disease is vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that live in water and can contaminate some shellfish, like oysters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with a compromised immune system or liver disease are more likely to get further complications from vibrio vulnificus.
But again, Bogoch stressed that eating an oyster or other shellfish in the summer will not lead to a flesh-eating disease.
“How many people are eating oysters? Almost 100 per cent of these people are not getting sick [or] getting necrotizing fasciitis,” he continued.
Other cases of the disease
Last week, a 12-year-old girl in Indiana also contracted a flesh-eating bacteria after scraping her toe last month at a Florida beach, AP added. Bogoch added the bacteria usually live in salty water and is often found in southern states or cities in the U.S.
However, he added there have been more cases of vibrio vulnificus shifting further north. He said this could be caused by climate change and could be a larger discussion for the health-care community in the long run.
According to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, there are an estimated 90 to 200 cases of necrotizing fasciitis in Canada per year, and roughly 20 to 30 per cent of these cases lead to death. Reported cases have been seen everywhere from British Columbia to Alberta to Ontario.
In April, a 43-year-old Victoria, B.C., man developed a flesh-eating bacteria after getting hit in the shin during a soccer game, the Vancouver Sun reported. The next day, Harry Sandhu experienced projectile vomiting, and his shin was completely swollen.
“I tried to stand up and, oh my God, I was screaming at the top of my lungs,” he told the paper.
Wound safety for the summer
Bogoch added that even with the recent cases from Florida, Canadians should remember these cases are still considered rare. And while this doesn’t mean you should avoid summer activities or beaches, it is a good reminder to be more mindful of cuts and wounds.
“If you have an open cut and you’re going to the beach, make sure you take care of your wounds and make sure that any open skin or cuts are covered,” he said.
“And on top of that, if there is any evidence of more redness or tenderness or swelling, get it looked at by a health-care professional.”
He added that when health-care teams see symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis, they need to recognize it right away.
“This is a team sport,” he said. “Recognizing it earlier on ensures that patients are put on the right antibiotics and they have prompt surgical care.”
—With files from the Associated Press