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Mom shares warning of flesh-eating bacteria after son's infection from Maryland bay

A mother says her son swam in a Maryland bay and developed open wounds that doctors told her were a form of flesh-eating bacteria known as Vibrio.
/ Source: TODAY

As millions get ready to hit the beach for the July Fourth holiday, a Maryland mother wants other parents to beware: Her son was infected with a type of flesh-eating bacteria after going swimming last month.

Brittany Carey wrote in a Facebook post that her son went swimming in the Sinepuxent Bay near Ocean City on June 23 and later developed open wounds that doctors at Peninsula Regional Medical Center, in Salisbury, Maryland, told her were the result of Vibrio, a type of flesh-eating bacteria.

"He went swimming and was having a great time until about Monday evening when I started noticing little spots developing all over his body,'' Carey wrote. "Tuesday morning there were open wounds developing but I had thought he was scratching them, making them worse. Only to find when I picked him up Tuesday they were a lot bigger and a lot more."

"Off to the hospital we went to be told it was really nothing and an antibiotic that only made it worse. So doctors on Thursday and then PRMC to find out my little one now had VIBRIO a bacteria found in the bay and also in raw seafood."

Carey's description of her son's infection, which included photos of a wound on his arm, comes after a report released last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine that found that flesh-eating bacteria could be spreading to new places due to rising ocean temperatures from climate change.

Six authors from Cooper University Hospital in New Jersey determined that the bacterium that causes the condition, Vibrio vulnificus, has been found in an area where it had previously been rarely seen.

Five cases of flesh-eating bacteria, which require ocean water above 55 degrees Fahrenheit to live, were connected to activity in the Delaware Bay between 2017 and 2018, compared to one case of infection from 2008-16, according to Cooper University Hospital.

Flesh-eating bacteria is usually found in the warmer waters of the Southeast and the Gulf of Mexico.

Every one of the patients had either eaten seafood from the Delaware Bay or gone crabbing in the area, which sits between Delaware and New Jersey, the report found.

"I know we’ve all seen these cases in the Delaware bay but now my little guy got this from being in the bay right by Hoopers,'' Carey wrote. "Please be careful out there guys and if you start seeing wounds such as these please get somewhere fast!"

Carey, who did not respond to a request for comment by TODAY, added that her son's pediatrician said he is healing nicely.

Carey's report about her son follows another family's warning about the dangers of flesh-eating bacteria after they say their mother died two weeks after contracting it.

Wade Fleming told TODAY on Monday 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.

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

TODAY reported another recent case of necrotizing fasciitis, occurring in a 12-year-old girl, following her family vacation in Destin, Florida. She is home recovering now.

What are Vibrio bacteria?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vibrio bacteria naturally live in certain coastal waters and are more prevalent between May and October, when the water is warmer. Vibrio bacteria are one group of bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis, an infection that enters the body through a break in the skin, usually when an open wound comes in contact with coastal saltwater.

People can also contract vibriosis by eating raw or undercooked seafood. It causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths per year in the U.S., according to the CDC.

What are symptoms of Vibrio bacteria?

If ingested, the bacteria can cause watery diarrhea, with cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever or chills. Symptoms usually appear within 24 hours of ingesting the food, and last about three days.

When the bacteria leads to a skin infection, symptoms include changes in skin color, a rapidly spreading swollen or inflamed area of the skin, fever and severe pain.

Those with weakened immune systems due to conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and liver disease are more susceptible to flesh-eating bacteria, the CDC states.

The CDC offers the following tips to avoid a necrotizing fasciitis infection:

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked oysters or other shellfish. Cook them before eating.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handing raw shellfish.
  • Avoid contaminating cooked shellfish with raw shellfish and its juices.
  • Stay out of salt water or brackish water if you have a wound (including cuts and scrapes), or cover your wound with a waterproof bandage if there’s a possibility it could come into contact with salt water or brackish water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices.
  • Wash wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and water if they have been exposed to seawater or raw seafood or its juices.
  • If you develop a skin infection, tell your medical provider if your skin has come into contact with salt water or brackish water, raw seafood or raw seafood juices.

Most people recover from vibriosis after three days, but people with a Vibrio vulnificus infection can become seriously ill and need intensive care, or even a limb amputation. About one in five people with this type of infection die. Whereas about one in three people with necrotizing fasciitis will die.

The best way to protect yourself is to follow the advice from the CDC, and if you notice unusual symptoms, visit a medical professional immediately.