Flesh Eating Disease is Not an Urban Legend

Cheryl Bennett Wiygul

Flesh Eating Bacteria sounds like an urban legend. Let me assure you that it is not. It took my Dad’s life. This is so raw and personal to me that I did not want to post about it, but if I can help one person, then it is worth it. There is not enough education out there about the bacteria in the water. There needs to be signs posted at every beach, every city and state park, and every bayou stating that “due to naturally occurring bacteria in the water people with open wounds or compromised immune systems should not enter”.

I knew about the open wounds. Many people I’ve talked to don’t. They think saltwater is good for cuts. Saltwater alone may be, but the bacteria enters through cuts. My Dad had cancer, therefore his immune system was compromised. He’s battled cancer for many years and has been in the water several times so it didn’t seem like a risk. My parents were coming down to stay with me in Florida about a week after the post about a 12 year old girl contracting bacteria that turned into necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) in Destin started circling around. I didn’t want to believe that.

My family loves being in the water. Our county, Okaloosa County, posted an article titled “Rumor Control” in response to the post which seemed to diffuse everyone’s fears. The girl had a cut on her leg so I felt like it reinforced to me not to go in with a cut. I researched a little.

When my parents got in town I was fanatical about Neosporin and liquid bandaid. My Dad didn’t have any open wounds. He had a couple places that were practicality healed small scratches on his arms and legs that I made sure were super sealed up. My mom religiously sun-blocked him. We were taking precautions and we were good, so I thought. We had a blast. We were out in the bay on the boat near Crab Island, went to the beach in Destin twice, splashed around Turkey Creek, swam in Boggy Bayou, in our pool and then on Friday we spent the day at Rocky Bayou riding jet skis and throwing the ball around in the water. We left around 4:00 p.m.

Daddy stayed up late Friday night and watched a movie. He was happy and talkative, seemed to feel fine as he did all week. About 4:00 a.m. Saturday morning, 12 hours after we were in the water, he woke up with a fever, chills and some cramping. My parents had planned to head back to Memphis that morning anyway and my mom wanted him to be near his doctors to have him checked out. He’d been sick before and they knew his history so it seemed like the best thing to do. He got worse on the way home. His legs started to hurt severely. He was becoming extremely uncomfortable.

My Dad has been through a lot and he is not a complainer so he had to have been in a lot of pain to vocalize it. They got to the hospital in Memphis around 8 p.m. They took him back immediately. As they were helping him get changed into his hospital gown they saw this terribly swollen black spot on his back that was not there before.

My mom sent me a picture of it and it felt like someone sucker punched me. I called and asked if it was actually black (because sometimes color is off in a photo) and she said it was black. I never saw a cut on his back and neither did she. We certainly hadn’t seen this spot. I told her to tell them he was in the water in Florida and it was necrotizing fasciitis. She told everyone that came in the room. One person told her the media had blown that out of proportion. Others said it was staph. They would not biopsy it. They did start him on IV antibiotics. The black spot had doubled in size. A new one was starting to pop up. His arms were becoming more blotchy by the minute and he was in a great deal of pain. Some of the nurses said they’d never seen anything like it.

At 1 a.m. he became septic and they moved him into ICU. He coded shortly after and they had to bring him back. My dad had a lot of medical issues but heart was not one of them. They had to intubate him. He coded again. They said his organs were too damaged and his blood was too acidic to sustain life. He was gone by Sunday afternoon.

Less than 48 hours after getting out of the water feeling great, the bacteria had destroyed him. We got lab results today: Vibrio vulnificus which manifests into necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) ultimately leading to sepsis. Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria that is transmitted by eating undercooked shellfish or through an open wound.

There were no bacteria warnings at any beach or park we went to. They do post advisories for high bacteria but there were none. I would never have taken my Dad in the water if there was a bacteria advisory but it would have been because I didn’t want him to get a stomach virus not because I thought it would kill him. (I realize there can still be bacteria without an advisory – just making the point that there was not a posted high level) I knew you shouldn’t swim with an open wound but I didn’t realize he shouldn’t be in the water with his immune system. I feel like I should have known and that is something I will live with for the rest of my life. If I would have done more research I would have but I don’t think the general public realizes it either.

I do believe if there was a simple sign posted about the risk of swimming with an open wound or an immune disorder, we wouldn’t have let him get in. I am absolutely not trying to scare people from the beach or swimming. I love the water and so did my Dad. People do need to know how to be more cautious and how to recognize symptoms. There is information out there but I didn’t find it all until it was too late. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I don’t need anyone to tell me what we should or should not have done. We already know. It was too late for us. Please just pass this on so it can help someone else.

Snip!

The FB banner picture is sadly ironic.

Thank you to Cheryl Bennett Wiygul for this difficult public service announcement.

15 Comments on Flesh Eating Disease is Not an Urban Legend

  1. I’m still skeptical…Was this a river or Atlantic Ocean? If a river, ok, I concede. If Atlantic Ocean, I have my doubts.

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  2. There are two things I wish to say, and one is going to sound terrible, in that it’ll seem like I want to co-opt the authors tale. I know Death and I wish to take nothing away from people’s experiences with the bastard.

    But there was a time, very recently, when we Americans didn’t have to worry about this particular avenue Death might take. We must address it now because it was brought here. We restrict plants and animals being brought from other parts of the world to prevent exactly this type of thing. And most seem to understand. But people come here, both freely and in bondage, with this and many more lifeforms both on and in them and with the food and drink they carry.

    Do we really need any other argument against illegal immigration? Legal immigrants are forced to leave their food, drink, and unseen passengers behind.

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  3. If george soros got it – now, that would be something to laugh at.

    Illegal immigration has brought a lot of disease into the US. The left has its agenda, and mother nature has hers. Just look at aids.

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  4. I swim in the Ocean to combat Concrete Poisoning and Heat Rash

    (It also works on Jock itch) I was in the Gulf Today…I also

    compensate any Bacteria by drinking a case of Beer a Day…

    If You couldn’t tell…I’m well into that case of Beer.

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  5. Information posted like this means looking for answers. Once a health problem is encountered unintentionally, it still requires an immediate solution. It is possible that a solution could have been made available if the medical knowledge were known, AND if the needed treatment were allowed by the FDA. When a victim is at a point of maybe dying for lack of a helpful treatment, why should the government be the power to deny that person the possible life-saving help?

    Eat Me
    The Soviet method for attacking infection that we can learn from.
    By DARIA VAISMAN
    MAY 30, 200612:41 PM

    “In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control, along with other federal agencies, warned that the world might soon return to a “pre-antibiotic era.” Two million people each year now get hospital-borne bacterial infections, 1.4 million of them resistant to antibiotics and 90,000 of them lethal. One example is sepsis, the infection that sickened * Joan Didion’s daughter, as Didion relates in The Year of Magical Thinking. New antibiotics are being discovered. But it takes 10 years and at least $800 million to bring an antibiotic to market, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America. The big advantage that phages offer over antibiotics is that bacterial resistance is less of a problem. Unlike antibiotics, new phage batches can quickly be whipped up to take the place of phages to which bacteria become resistant.

    The word phage comes from the Greek “to eat.” A phage contains genetic material that gets injected into a virus’s host. Whereas “bad” viruses infect healthy cells, phages target specific bacteria that then explode. At Eliava, phages are produced as a liquid that can be drunk or injected intravenously, as pills, or as phage-containing patches for wounds. Though few published articles in Western journals report positive clinical trials—most of the recent long-term research on phages comes out of the Soviet Union—some Western scientists say that phages are safe and that they work. “There is no evidence that phage is harmful in any way,” says Nick Mann, a biology professor at the University of Warwick in England and co-director of phage R&D company Novolytics.”
    https://slate.com/technology/2006/05/the-soviet-method-for-attacking-infection.html

    What is bacteriophage?
    Bacteriophage therapy is the use of “good” viruses (bacterial viruses) to treat antibiotic resistant or chronic bacterial infections. The bacterial virus acts directly and exclusively on the target bacteria to destroy it through a process called “lysis.”.

    Antibiotic Resistant Infections

    Patients visit the Eliava Phage Therapy Center from around the world to combat antibiotic resistant infections with the Eliava’s unique therapeutic bacteriophages. Phage preparations for therapeutic and prophylactic use are made with a selection of bacteriophages with a wide spectrum of activity against the specific disease-causing bacteria. This is determined by performing bacteriological analysis from the clinical sample.
    https://eliavaphagetherapy.com/about-phage-therapy/

    Designer Phages Kill Drug Resistant Infections
    By Carol Duff, MSN, BA, RN – June 4, 201961012
    https://www.veteranstoday.com/2019/06/04/designer-phages-kill-drug-resistant-infections/

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  6. Spend half an hour or so in a popular Hollywood pool. If the salt/chlorine cures you, YAAAAAAY! If infection wipes out Hollywood, YAAAAAAAY.

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  7. Well, I feel the need, as a Gulf resident, to toss in my two cents’ worth – Vibrio is somewhat common and not unheard of prior to this year. It results in about 4 – 5 deaths per year in the Gulf region. The warmer and more stagnant/brackish the water, the higher the risk. It’s generally shocking and strikes rapidly with a high mortality rate even if treated promptly. In almost 30 years of wound care experience I have seen it a few times and it is dramatic when systemic. Each positive Vibrio culture is reported to the State of Florida Department of Health for tracking.
    I am sure the doctors in Memphis had probably never seen it so it can take providers unaware. The daughter tried to warn them but tunnel vision and advice over a phone from family members is easily discounted at times.
    As far as this being an introduced bacteria – nope, it has been around for the ages, generally referred to as cholera.
    People just need to be aware and realize this is a risk in any warm waters either fresh or salt.
    Gators get more press but Vibrio probably should truly be the Monster from the Black Lagoon.

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  8. Now that public defecation is becoming wildly popular in “blue” cities, I wonder what other disease outbreaks we can look forward to in this progressive brave new world.

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  9. No longer go into public pools. Just sickening listening to the public laugh about peeing in the pool. Gotta hunch none of them shower off their buttal cooties before entering. If the hotel does not have a pig roaster next to pool it’s possible Muslims could have infected the place.

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  10. “If they only had signs.” It’s not possible to have signs on every body of water in The US. Just miss putting one sign on one little pond and a lawsuit would be filed when someone got the infection.

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