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Family shares warning after Memphis man dies from coastal flesh-eating bacteria

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Flesh-eating bacteria near the coast is making the rounds in nationwide headlines, and a Memphis man is one of the few victims to die from it.

Cheryl Wiygul said her family loves being in the water, her father included.

That’s why last week, while her parents were visiting on the Gulf Coast, they did it all, posting on Facebook about taking a boat into the bay and swimming in Boggy Bayou.

She writes her father had cancer, and his immune system had been compromised. She’d seen the warnings about open wounds in the Gulf waters and heard about flesh-eating bacteria, so they were extra careful to use Neosporin and liquid Band-Aids.

“The term flesh-eating bacteria is a conglomeration of several types of infections," Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Hospital, said. "The classic one is Group A strep and causes strep throat. It sometimes can get into the skin and soft tissue and make people very ill.”

He didn’t treat Wiygul’s father, but unfortunately, that’s where her father ended up about 24 hours after getting out of the water.

A black spot can be seen formed on his back, and his daughter said it turned out to be Necrotizing Fasciitis, or that flesh-eating bacteria, that soon after led to his death.

She said she had no idea patients with depleted immune systems were just as vulnerable as those who have open wounds.

“If you're going to go to the beach, don’t swim in the water if you're significantly immune-suppressed, high-dose immune suppressants like steroids, if you’ve gotten chemo, that should be a marker to make you a little more careful," Threlkeld said.

Threlkeld said this bacteria is much more likely to live in warm waters like in the Gulf, and you can also catch it from eating raw seafood.

Wiygul said she’d like to see more warning signage and beach towns promoting awareness.

But overall, the doctor still said it’s very rare, just that some people should not take the risk.

Threlkeld said there can be a higher risk of contracting the disease after a hurricane or tropical system — anytime the water is extra warm. He does not know if there have been more cases of flesh-eating bacteria this year than before. He said recent cases have just happened all around the same time.

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