What to know about flesh-eating bacteria infections

Carolyn Fleming of Ellenton, Florida, may have been the latest person to die of a flesh-eating bacteria infection, which she contracted infection swimming off the coast of Anna Maria Island in Florida, her family says.

Cases of the deadly infection, called necrotizing fasciitis, may be on the rise because of climate change.

In fact, a study published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine said that rising water temperatures in the Delaware Bay may be to blame for an increase in the number of cases of infections in the previously rarely affected waters. The authors of the study described five cases of Vibrio vulnificus necrotizing fasciitis that occurred during the summer of 2017 and 2018. In the eight years before 2017, the doctors saw only one case of the infection.

Fleming, on the other hand, acquired the infection in Florida waters, her family says, where the bacteria are naturally found.

Here’s what you need to know about necrotizing fasciitis:

What is necrotizing fasciitis?

Necrotizing fasciitis is a skin infection caused by rare bacteria that enters the body through a break in the skin. From this opening, the bacteria aggressively attacks muscles and other organs resulting in rapid destruction of the tissues. Vibrio bacteria are one group that can cause this infection; one type, called Vibrio vulnificus, is particularly dangerous. It is usually contracted when an open wound comes into contact with coastal saltwater. Necrotizing fasciitis can quickly develop soon after. If not treated promptly with antibiotics, the infection can become fatal. But more often, the bacteria are ingested in raw or undercooked seafood, causing diarrhea. The resulting illness is rarely life-threatening and symptoms occur within 24 hours and last about three days.