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Flesh-eating bacteria found in Destin kills Tennessee man

(Provided Photo/WATN)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WATN) – Beachgoers beware! A Memphis man died this week after being infected with a flesh-eating bacteria after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.

The man’s daughter, Cheryl Wiygul, is originally from Memphis but now lives near Destin, Florida. She says people need to be careful if they plan on going to the beach. She believes people also need to be better informed and signs should be posted at beaches. 

Her dad didn’t have any open wounds, but his immune system was weak from fighting cancer. She believes that’s how he got sick from flesh-eating bacteria and died within two days of becoming infected.

“He’s gotten sick before. He’s been able to fight it off. We’re careful with him, so, and he’s been to the beach before during treatment,” said Wiygul. 

Wiygul couldn’t wait for her parents to come visit her in Destin, Florida. The Memphis couple arrived June 30 and spent the 4th of July holiday with their daughter and grandchildren.

Within a few hours of his last swim in the ocean before heading back to Memphis, Wiygul’s dad got sick with body aches, chills and a fever. He’s been battling cancer for years, so the family has always been careful.

“People need to know that if you have an immune system problem then you do not get in the water,” said Wiygul.

The family didn’t realize certain bacteria found in warm ocean and lake water could turn deadly. But that’s what it did to her dad. Doctors found a dark spot on his back. He became septic and within two days of being at the beach, Wiygul’s dad died. She wants others to understand how serious it is. 

“Once it gets into somebody’s body through shellfish consumption or through a cut, it can turn into the flesh-eating bacteria,” Wiygul said. 

It affects people like her dad who have weak immune systems, according to Baptist Memorial Hospital infectious disease Dr. Stephen Threlkeld. 

“It can become much more severe and actually get into the blood stream and make you septic, and certainly, very frequently, even be fatal,” said Dr. Threlkeld. 

A few cases have been reported off coasts from the Florida panhandle up to New Jersey. It’s impossible to say exactly how many people have been affected. But the CDC reports there are about a thousand cases nationally each year.