SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – For an Ohio man, a Florida vacation turned into a fight for his life. He contracted flesh-eating bacteria while enjoying the waters of Tampa Bay.
Last month, Barry Briggs flew down from Ohio to enjoy the Tampa Bay area. On the last leg of his trip, he joined his family on a boating and kayaking excursion off of Weedon Island in Tampa Bay.
When he returned to Ohio, he noticed some swelling on his foot and within hours, it got progressively worse.
“Thirty-two hours later, I went from swollen ankle to emergency surgery,” he said.
Doctors diagnosed him with necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. It was destroying the tissue in his foot and leg at a rate of an inch an hour.
“We couldn’t find anything, and the doctors couldn’t find anything, so we’re not sure point of entry or how it got affected,” said Briggs.
The CDC says necrotizing fasciitis is extremely rare, roughly 700 to 1,200 US cases are reported each year. Cuts or scrapes can allow the bacteria to enter the body, but those with a weak immune system, such as from diabetes or cancer, could also be at risk.
Briggs is thankful his family wasn’t affected.
“It didn’t attack the kids, it didn’t attack my brother-in-law or his girlfriend,” said Briggs.
“Out of the seven of us, I was the right one. That’s the positive in a negative situation.”
But Briggs wasn’t alone. Friends tell us this month Mike Walton from Pinellas County contracted the flesh-eating bacteria while fishing in the gulf. This serves as a reminder to carefully clean and bandage wounds, and if you spot any strange bruising that worsens, call your doctor.
“This started out as I thought, a swollen ankle. And then it became a little bit more and I didn’t react to it. If you’re getting symptoms of what you think is inconsistent with what’s happening, go see someone. Hours matter in this case,” said Briggs.
Briggs is happy he caught it early. He’s now healing and will be able to return to the water in the summer. He said this won’t stop him, but he’s going to be cautious from now on.
“If it had not continued up into the skin and decided to go into the fascia, then it’s under the bone and muscle and all that kind of stuff and that’s where the foot disappears and if you let it go hours after that, it’s into the rest of your system and you’re fighting for your life,” he said.