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Family says mother died from flesh-eating bacteria in Florida surf

The family of Carolyn Fleming, 77, says she died two weeks after contracting flesh-eating bacteria in an open wound.
/ Source: TODAY

As millions get set to head to the beach for the July 4 holiday, a family is warning about the dangers of flesh-eating bacteria after they say their mother died two weeks after contracting the rare infection.

Wade Fleming told TODAY that his mother, Carolyn Fleming, 77, contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection that destroys skin, when she nicked her leg in the Florida surf on June 14.

"It's still unimaginable,'' Wade Fleming said. "I don't even know if it's really sunken in yet. We never thought it would happen to anybody that I would ever know."

The diagnosis of flesh-eating bacteria has not been confirmed by NBC News as the official cause of death.

If confirmed, it would be the second case in just the past month. Kylei Parker, 12, is currently recovering from the infection after a trip to Destin, Florida, in early June resulted in her being sent to the intensive care unit.

It was a "normal day at the beach" off the waters of Anna Maria Island when Wade Fleming said his mother contracted the deadly infection.

Carolyn Fleming complained of pain a day after cutting her leg in the ocean in Florida. TODAY

Carolyn Fleming first complained of pain a day after sustaining a three-quarter-inch cut on her left shin, the family told NBC News.

She received a tetanus shot and an antibiotic a day later, but her shin turned black by the third day after the incident, Fleming said.

"She came back home, went to bed,'' he said. "Her friends had to break into her house the next day and find her basically unconscious on the floor."

Carolyn Fleming died on June 27 after complications from surgery to save her leg, her son said.

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There are 700 to 1,100 cases of necrotizing fasciitis recorded in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early symptoms include a red or swollen area of skin that spreads quickly, severe pain and fever.

It can lead to sepsis, shock and organ failure, and even with treatment, up to 1 in 3 people with necrotizing fasciitis die from the infection, according to the CDC.

"Accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment and prompt surgery are important to stopping this infection," the CDC said.

The Fleming family hopes that sharing their mother's story will help others more quickly recognize the early symptoms.

"The cure right now is to educate people,'' Wade Fleming said. "They can go to the beach, they can have fun, but there are dangers out there and try to learn the warning signs."