A late-night swim in the St. Johns river seemed like a fun idea for Lauren Spaulding, who was celebrating her 18th birthday at Huguenot Park, but her camping trip was cut short.
"I started throwing up. I had a bad fever, low energy and didn't want to do anything. I just felt horrible," said Spaulding.
She noticed swelling on her arm and said not even an hour later it turned into a large lump. Type A streptococcus is what doctors called it: a flesh-eating bacteria.
"If you don't diagnose it right away, if you don't report it right away then it can be very deadly," said Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Om Kapoor.
Spaulding said doctors feared they'd have to amputate her arm but were able to dig the infection out. Two years later she has a scar to tell her story of survival, one she felt compelled to share with Action News after hearing about the recent case of flesh-eating bacteria found in a 7-year-old girl.
"I felt for her I really did," said Spaulding.
The girl was diagnosed with vibrio valnificus, a type of flesh-eating bacteria that is not as aggressive as Spaulding's was. The girl is being treated with antibiotics, but Kapoor said Group A Strept requires serious surgeries like Spaulding endured. He said both have similar outcomes.
"You tell people these stories and they don't think it can happen to them but it can happen to anyone and I just want people to realize that,” said Spaulding.
Your body can become introduced to this bacteria through the consumption of shellfish, or by exposing an open cut or wound on your body to warm saltwater or murky water.
Doctors also said that people with weaker immune systems should be cautious before entering water with open wounds.