Man Dies of Flesh-Eating Bacteria That Felt Like 'Acid'

Mother Susan McIntyre warns other to be on the lookout for signs of necrotizing fasciitis
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2023 2:10 PM CDT
Man Dies of Flesh-Eating Bacteria That Felt Like 'Acid'
Flesh-eating bacteria can hide in standing water, like the pond shown here.   (Getty Images/Ganna Zelinska)

The decision to chase his dog into a pond cost a San Diego man his life, according to his mother, who is warning others to avoid standing water that has appeared across the city following recent rainfall. Jeff Bova, 41, got water on a small cut on his arm and died weeks later of necrotizing fasciitis, an infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria, mother Susan McIntyre tells NBC News. "Stay away from standing water, especially after it rains, because there is just a ton of bacteria in it," she says. "If you get any kind of cut and it starts getting red, go to the doctor immediately—don't wait."

Bova didn't like to go to the doctor. So when his cut became red and inflamed, he tried to treat it on his own. Then "he developed these really nasty blisters" that began oozing, says McIntyre. He said it felt like "acid coming down his arm." Necrotizing fasciitis is most often caused by Streptococcus A, a bacteria found in warm, brackish water. It "enters your body through your broken skin barrier, and it quickly reproduces in your tissue, moving through the tissues very rapidly and giving off toxins," Dr. Shweta Warner, a specialist in infectious diseases, tells NBC San Diego.

It kills 20% of the people it infects, including those who visit a hospital immediately after symptoms appear. People with weakened immune systems, like Bova, are especially susceptible. By the time he went to a hospital Wednesday, it was too late to save him. He died Friday, per NBC. "Everything just happened so fast," says McIntyre. The CDC notes necrotizing fasciitis is "a very serious illness" that requires immediate hospital care. Early symptoms include fever; warm, red, swollen skin; and severe pain following an injury or surgery. Later symptoms include blisters, black spots on the skin, pus at the site of the injury, dizziness, fatigue, and vomiting. (An 11-year-old died of the same infection following an ankle injury.)

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