The bacteria which can be deadly infected one additional woman, and doctors believe they caught an additional case early in another woman.
SARASOTA — Just a week after an Ellenton woman died of an infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria from waters off Anna Maria Island, two more victims are experiencing the same symptoms.
Amy Barnes, 45, of Arcadia, said she developed necrotizing fasciitis after visiting Siesta Key Beach in May.
“I started getting really sick after I went to the beach. I had a scratch on my leg, and I didn’t think anything of it,” Barnes said. “Then it ate up the whole back of my leg.”
She said she went to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis.
Another Florida woman who said she got an infection at a Sarasota beach said she’s lucky doctors treated the infection before it became life-threatening.
Sarah Martinez, 28, was diagnosed with cellulitis this week, after swimming in the water at Turtle Beach in Sarasota. She said she nicked her ankle from shaving two days before her beach trip and didn’t think of it when she went into the water.
“About 30 minutes after getting out of the water, my leg started swelling up, and it started turning really red,” Martinez, of Orlando, said. “I figured it was just from a sunburn or from being on my feet all morning.”
By the next day, Martinez said she was hospitalized.
Barnes said doctors at first thought she, too, had cellulitis, “but then, nope, they had all the infectious disease doctors treating me, and they did the protocol for necrotizing fasciitis.”
She said she is on her fourth week of antibiotics and has been released from the hospital.
“I want people to be aware of this stuff because it’s real and it will kill you,” she said. “It will eat you up before you even get a chance.”
Barnes has a compromised immune system because of kidney problems, which makes it easier to develop necrotizing fasciitis.
Lynn Fleming, 77, of Ellenton, died last week after apparently being exposed to a flesh-eating bacteria at Coquina Beach. She cut her shin while walking on the beach, and three days later was found unconscious in her home and taken to the hospital. Surgeons tried to save her infected leg, but on June 27, Fleming died after suffering two strokes and organ failure during surgeries.
Earlier last month, a 12-year-old girl vacationing in Destin contracted necrotizing fasciitis and survived after three surgeries.
‘Caught it early’
Martinez said her leg was “just completely swollen.”
“I barely even put pressure on it all the way from my ankle up to my knees. They told me it was definitely from the bacteria in the water,” she said. “The bacteria had gotten in my cut, and it was severely infected, and they kept me overnight because they were scared that it could turn into necrotizing fasciitis.”
Martinez was given antibiotics and released from the hospital after staying overnight, she said.
Cellulitus is a common skin infection, which, if untreated, can turn into necrotizing fasciitis, known as flesh-eating bacteria. Health professionals warn that if you see anything resembling an infection after an open wound is in contact with a natural body of water, pool or hot tub, to see a doctor immediately.
Swimmers be cautious
Health officials say that anyone with open wounds, even minor cuts, should avoid the water.
“Anybody with a wound of any sort — any sort of scratches or scrapes — should stay out of the water,” said Paul Iovino, the spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County.
As Gulf waters approach 90 degrees, the bacteria that can cause the disease thrive, particularly in intracoastal areas with lower salinity levels.
Iovino said the bacteria are naturally occurring and that swimmers should not be overly cautious of Coquina Beach, where Fleming contracted the bacteria.
“No more than they should be wary of going to any other beach on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not a localized thing,” Iovino said. “It’s common any place where the Gulf temperature gets into the upper 80s. People who are healthy with strong immune systems and no cuts or abrasions have a very low chance of contracting the bacteria.”
Early symptoms of the infection are often mistaken for the flu and include high fever, sore throat, stomachache, nausea, diarrhea, chills and general body aches. Health officials urge anybody with an open cut who has touched the water and seems infected to see a doctor immediately.
However, Sarasota County Health Department officials said a no-swim advisory issued Wednesday for three beaches, Venice, Brohard and Lido Casino, was unrelated and prompted by a different kind of bacteria.
On the rise?
The Florida Department of Health does not track cases of necrotizing fasciitis.
The deadly disease can be caused by different strains of bacteria, and is most commonly caused by group A streptococcus, according to the CDC. There are no vaccines to prevent group A strep infections.
The health department tracks all cases of Vibrio vulnificus, which is a less common cause of necrotizing fasciitis. The Sarasota County Health Department said there have been no reported or suspect cases of necrotizing fasciitis caused by Vibrio vulnificus bacteria this year in this county.
“Vibrio vulnificus grows in the water. It’s an enteric bacteria, meaning it’s always there,” said Steve Huard, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County. “Based on salinity and temperature, it can become more troublesome in the summertime.”
Cases caused by Vibrio vulnificus should be reported to the FDOH.
“If the clinician doesn’t state that it’s something reportable like Vibrio vulnificus, then we would not know about it,” Huard said. “It’s commonly caused by other bacterial infections.”
Although the bacteria are naturally occurring, the way Floridians have “managed land for 100 years” may have created an environment where the bacteria are more likely to grow, Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory staff scientist Tracy Fanara said.
Increased development means higher levels of storm water runoff dumped into the Gulf of Mexico following a storm. The rapid introduction of freshwater reduces salinity levels, turning the water into a petri dish of sorts.
“These bacteria thrive when there is a lack of salinity,” Fanara said.