Man contracts flesh-eating disease while visiting Florida beach: 'I almost lost my leg or my life'

A Georgia man was hospitalized after contracting a flesh-eating bacteria while vacationing in Panama City, Fla., earlier this month.

Tony Meredith, a father from Colquitt, Ga., told WDHN he began experiencing flu-like symptoms five days after he returned home from his annual family trip to the popular beach town.

A nurse practitioner initially believed Meredith was suffering from a kidney infection. However, once his leg turned purple, Meredith went to the emergency room at Southeast Health in Dothan, Ala.

There, he was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare, life-threatening bacterial infection, often referred to as a "flesh-eating" disease, as it quickly and aggressively kills the body's soft tissue.

Physicians believe he contracted the disease after bacteria seeped into a tiny scratch below his knee while he was in the water at Panama City Beach.

"[The doctor] had told me it was a type of strep, but then on Tuesday, when he'd come and seen me, he told me it was the flesh-eating kind," Meredith recalled.

Meredith, who says he is facing a four-week recovery period, shared his story to help beachgoers become more aware of the risks that come with swimming in the ocean.

“Anybody that's going to the beach, they need to really, really be real cautious before getting in the sand or the water. I never thought it would happen to me," he told WDHN. "I almost lost my leg or my life."

Doctors diagnosed Meredith quickly enough to cure him with antibiotics, but others affected by the deadly disease have not proven as lucky.

In June, Lynn Fleming, a 77-year-old Florida woman, died from a flesh-eating bacteria she contracted at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island. Her family said up until the day before her death, "you would never know that anything was wrong."

That same month, 12-year-old Kylei Brown, of Indiana, contracted a flesh-eating bacteria on a family vacation in Destin, Fla. She scratched her toe on a skateboard before visiting the beach, where she likely contracted the deadly bacteria through seawater.

All three cases come on the heels of an alarming report published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, which suggested a flesh-eating bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus may be spreading to regions previously non-endemic to the microorganism due to unusually warm waters.

The bacteria, which causes necrotizing fasciitis, has an extremely high mortality rate, and accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic administration and prompt surgery are extremely important in successful treatment, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Early symptoms of the disease, which can be spread through seawater or even undercooked seafood, include fever, dizziness or nausea soon after an injury or surgery, according to the CDC. Those who believe they may have been infected are urged to seek immediate treatment.