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Warm Water Danger: What to Know About Flesh-Eating Bacteria
  • By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter
  • Posted May 14, 2022

Warm Water Danger: What to Know About Flesh-Eating Bacteria

If heading back into the water this summer has you concerned about flesh-eating bacteria, an expert offers some advice.

"Flesh-eating bacteria refers to an infection that spreads so rapidly that the skin and surrounding soft tissue starts to die," explained Dr. Stacey Rose, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston.

"This is still a rare condition but can be quite serious, especially for individuals who have a compromised immune system," Rose explained in a college news release.

The most common cause of flesh-eating disease ("necrotizing fasciitis") is group A strep, a common type of bacteria that also causes strep throat. Strep produces toxins that break down the skin.

Staph infection is another cause of flesh-eating disease, and a less common cause is Vibrio vulnificus, a type of bacteria that lives in warm marine water like the Gulf Coast.

Most people who come in contact with Vibrio don't have any issues, but some are at increased risk for complications if they do. For example, immunocompromised people who go into bodies of water with a minor cut/wound could end up with a serious infection.

Rose offered the following safety tips:

  • Avoid bodies of water if you have an open wound.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after any summertime activities.
  • If you suffer a minor cut or injury, immediately clean it with soap and water.
  • Keep your skin healthy. Skin issues such as eczema or athlete's foot can create a breakdown in the skin that increases the risk of bacterial infections.
  • If you have an immune-compromising condition such as liver disease, kidney disease or diabetes, be more cautious when you go into bodies of water, especially if you have an open wound.
  • Shower after any water activities.
  • Chlorinated water is likely cleaner than non-chlorinated water, but not without risk.

If you have redness or irritation on your skin that becomes warm, changes color and is spreading very rapidly or forming pustules, contact your doctor right away, Rose advised.

In addition to antibiotics, the treatment for flesh-eating disease involves cutting out dead tissue very quickly to keep the infection from spreading. The sooner this is done, the less tissue surgeons will have to remove in the long run.

More information

There's more on flesh-eating disease at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, May 5, 2022

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