Woman nearly loses leg to infection from swim at Aussie beach

The painful health scare experience by the Australian Post worker is becoming more common, health officials warn.

A woman who went for a swim with her granddaughter with an old mosquito bite still present on her leg was told she might have to have the limb amputated, with an infection she caught in the water leaving the sore "exploding like a volcano".

Sunshine Coast woman and Australia Post employee Celeste Stirrup, 52, took her five-year-old granddaughter Indiana for a morning swim at Bulcock Beach in Caloundra, north of Bribie Island, for "about 40 minutes" in mid January.

Stirrup said the mosquito bite on her right upper thigh was a few days old and still a bit red, but not itchy. She went home and didn't notice any changes to her body until a few days later, she found a 20 centimetre-sized circle on her thigh where the bite had been. Then, she "broke out in a fever and started feeling unwell" and not long after that "the blisters started".

Celeste Stirrup, 52, and an image of Bulcock Beach in Caloundra.
Celeste Stirrup, 52, went for a swim at Bulcock Beach in Caloundra while she had a mosquito bite, which proved to be a grave mistake. Source: 7News

'Volcano' erupts on grandmother's leg

"It almost felt like a volcano erupting under my leg," Stirrup told the Courier Mail. Concerned, Stirrup sought medical advice and was prescribed some antibiotics to reduce the swelling but her condition continued to deteriorate. By Australia Day, the grandmother's blisters had become so big she was forced to check into hospital.

There, she was told her leg might need amputation. "The surgeon said to me they were putting me through for a CT scan and if they found a particular type of bacteria I’d be raced off for an immediate amputation," she said. "Which was terrible to hear all on my own. I couldn’t talk. I was in shock. I was sobbing and struggling to breathe."

Long road ahead to recovery

Fortunately, amputation was not necessary and a different type of bacteria was found, cellulitis. Stirrup did remain in hospital until February 6 however and now she's back at home in recovery, but in a few weeks she'll need to go in again for skin graft surgery. The whole ordeal has left her unable to walk for five weeks.

Stirrup said a nurse had told her she was the fourth case seen on the Sunshine Coast in just two weeks.

A view of Celeste Stirrup's wound.
Stirrup said it felt like a "volcano exploded" on her leg. Source: 7News

She urged people to take note and avoid the water if they'd been bitten. "This shouldn’t happen to anybody. If you have a bite or a cut you shouldn’t go for a swim," she said, adding plenty of people have a misconception salt water is good for sores.

"What people need to really understand is if ocean water is caught and pooled and not able to flow in and out, it is called, 'brackish waters' and is perfect for bacteria to grow and thrive and it is not good for swimming in."

Expert warns over 'common' occurrence

According to Associate Professor Gregor Devine with the Mosquito Control Laboratory at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, inflammation and cellulitis after insect bites is common.

"Midges actually bite, they have sawing mouth parts, so they leave a small open wound. The itchiness following the bite, caused by an allergic response to the insect’s saliva, makes people scratch and the scratching transfers bacteria to the wound where they can cause subcutaneous infection (the cellulitis)," Devine earlier explained to Yahoo News Australia.

"When a small blood feeding insect like a midge feeds, it has to get rid of excess water or it will explode, so it defecates while feeding.

"In most biting insects those faeces are not particularly harmful. The sources of infection following insect bites are usually secondary bacteria like streptococcus or staphylococcus that may already be on the skin or under your fingernails when you scratch."

Bites should be washed with soap and water before being treated with antiseptic, Devine said.

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