Flesh-eating bacteria: A real risk

Flesh-eating bacteria, family on beach

Alert: This post contains a graphic image that might be disturbing to readers.

Don’t lose sight of known summer health threats like flesh-eating bacteria while focusing on the Coronavirus. Hopefully, in the “new normal” brought about by COVID-19, beaches along the Gulf Coast will be open this summer. However, flesh-eating bacteria is something that makes headlines each summer — so, take care.

A professor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine says the name refers to more than one condition. It includes MRSA, Group A Streptococcus and Vibrio vulnificus, all of which are particularly prevalent in summer months. According to the CDC, approximately diagnosed Vibrio vulnificus 80,000 cases occur each year, resulting in about 100 deaths.

Flesh-eating bacteria infections

People who swim in coastal water and those who eat raw oysters or shellfish are at risk of infection. The microorganisms of the bacteria enter the body through breaks in the skin or open wounds. In severe cases, the bacterial infection can develop into necrotizing fasciitis, which is the origin of the term flesh-eating. It could lead to amputations or death.

High-risk waters

Warm, brackish water is more likely to pose a risk, mostly where salt seawater and river water meet. Such areas are prevalent along the Gulf Coast where water is warmer, and ideal for overproduction of the Vibrio bacteria. A meteorologist says the severity of the risk depends on the part of the Gulf where people swim. Annual tropical storms and hurricanes typically cool the water and flush out hot, polluted tropical water of the Mississippi River runoff.

Risk factors of flesh-eating bacteria

Although the microorganisms can enter any break in the skin, those with compromised immune systems are at an increased risk. This includes those with chronic liver disease, cancer and other diseases that weaken the immune system. Pregnant women must take extreme care when they visit the beach this summer. It would be a good idea to wear protective footwear. Moreover, avoid entering the water with wounds or broken skin areas that are not properly dressed.

Symptoms of flesh-eating bacteria infections

Symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis can include blisters and ulcers that could ooze pus, swelling, black spots or skin coloration. An infected person could also experience dizzy spells, nausea, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

It is crucial to seek medical care immediately upon noticing any of these red flags. The rapidly growing bacteria can start destroying tissue quickly. Treatment includes antibiotics. However, once it develops into necrotizing fasciitis or Vibrio vulnificus, it might require multiple surgical interventions.

According to the infectious disease specialist, from 30%  to 50 % could be fatal, and without treatment within 72 hours, the mortality rate is 100%.

flesh-eating bacteria, the gruesome truth

The lesson

Go to the beach if allowed — have fun — but, take care!

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