Doctor explains what you need to know about flesh-eating bacteria

Doctor explains what you need to know about flesh-eating bacteria
A no swimming sign posted on the beach in Gulfport means the beach vendor there can't rent personal water craft. (Source: John Fitzhugh)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Two recent cases of flesh-eating bacteria in Florida left one woman dead and one fighting for their life, raising concerns for beach goers. So should you be concerned?

“Thankfully, this is something that is actually very rare," says Dr. Steve Threlkeld. "We don’t see this often, but, when we do see it, it can be extremely severe and have a high mortality rate, so it always gets everyone’s attention when it happens.”

I sat down with infectious disease specialist via face-time to learn more about the dangers of the disease.

The dangerous, and sometimes deadly disease, commonly referred to as flesh eating bacteria, is a bacterial infection that quickly spreads and kills tissue.

“There are several things that lump into this flesh eating bacteria label," explained Dr. Threlkeld. "The ones we have heard and read about happening on the beaches on the Gulf Coast is a germ called Vibrio, which you get from being in the warm salt waters and that’s where that germ lives.”

The easiest way the doctor says you can come in contact with the bacteria is to get into water with an open cut wound.

“Bacteria is so small," he said, "so a little cut that you may not even notice is a Niagara Falls for bacteria! You can certainly still get this without an obvious cut.”

Dr. Threlkheld says the elderly, people with diabetes or people with a low immune system are more likely to contract the disease.

Here are the signs of an infected wound Dr. Threlkheld says you need to be on the lookout for:

“More redness, more tenderness, swelling at the touch, pain or drainage, fever, chills. All of the things that would normally get your attention.”

Dr. Threlkheld says the best thing you can do is to let your common sense take the lead.

“If you have a cut, do not get in the sea or lake waters. Just keep it clean. If you develop a wound while you’re in waters get out and clean it with soap and water and cover it with a dry dressing.”

And lastly...

“Go to the beach and have fun! It is uncommon. It is something we wanna be aware of, but it shouldn’t spoil your vacation worrying about it happening.”

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