Doctors have not received any indication from Indiana officials that vibrio was the culprit in 12-year-old's sudden onset of necrotizing fascitis.
DESTIN — Okaloosa County Health Department officials are working with the Indiana Department of Health to determine the cause of a recent tourist's infection.
The investigation stems from a Facebook post Monday from a mother who said she believed her daughter contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection, from the Gulf of Mexico while vacationing in the Destin area in early June.
Michelle Brown, who made the post, said her daughter underwent three surgeries before being released from an Indiana hospital after a week. The girl is now at home "on the road to recovery."
"We will have numerous doctors visits, physical therapy and blood work to continue, but all that matters is my girl is ALIVE," Brown wrote in the post.
The family has not responded to several attempts from the Daily News to comment on the story.
Some have speculated that this infection was possibly caused by a lethal bacteria called vibrio vulnificus.
However, Dr. Karen Chapman, director of the Okaloosa County DOH, said at this time, the Indiana DOH has not received any reports of vibrio vulnificus, sometimes called the "flesh-eating bacteria." Vibrio vulnificus is a common bacteria found in warm, salty water like the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding bays.
"There is no general threat to public safety at all," Chapman said.
Since 2016, the FDOH has confirmed 138 cases of vibro vulnificus in 44 Florida counties, 30 of those cases ending in death, according to the FDOH website.
"These are extraordinarily rare diseases," Chapman said. " ... There shouldn't be a worry to the vast majority of people."
The FDOH collects beach water samples every other week at three Destin parks: Henderson Beach State Park, James Lee Park, and Taylor Park. The samples don't include vibrio vulnificus because it's naturally occurring, but Chapman said they do test for enterococci, a fecal bacteria which can also cause wound infections.
Chapman said Group A strep, many times already on your body, can cause open wound infections. This is the most common cause of necrotizing fasciitis, she said.
Chapman echoed city of Destin officials' statements on Wednesday that not enough information has been collected to determine where or how the visitor's exposure occurred.
In the Facebook post, Brown said her daughter spent time in the pool during their visit while the beach was closed, but added that she "wholeheartedly” believes her daughter contracted the infection at "Pompano Beach" through a scrape on her big toe located on the infected leg. “Pompano Beach” could refer to a Destin beach access or a similarly named location in Miramar Beach in South Walton County.
"The important message for our visitors and public is that open wounds should really not be exposed to salt water — naturally occurring salt water bodies," Chapman said. "Really you should not expose open wounds to pools and hot tubs."
Children younger than 4, elderly people older than 60, and those with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems are at greater risk of getting an infection from natural bodies of water like the Gulf and surrounding bays, Chapman said.
"It doesn't mean that you can't enjoy coming to the beach or going to the pool or sitting in a hot tub, but rather you should monitor your health and skin condition," Chapman said.
Chapman said the Center for Disease Control and the DOH encourages those visiting the beach to avoid the water with open wounds. But if wounds do touch the Gulf or bay waters, properly clean, treat, and monitor the injury. If swelling and redness becomes noticeable or the wound is warm to touch, Chapman said a doctor should be immediately notified.
The Okaloosa County DOH public information line, 850-344-0566, is available Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.