Seaside Scare: Flesh-Eating Bacteria Infections

What to Watch For, What to Do

It's a horrible fate: You take a cool dip in the ocean and become infected with flesh-eating bacteria.

Vibrio vulnificus bacteria are responsible for about 80,000 such infections each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and about 500 hospitalizations and 100 deaths each year.

There are a number of ways to protect yourself, according to David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Vibrio bacteria can get into the body through open wounds, so if you have any, it's best to stay out of the water, especially brackish water. Cover the wound with a waterproof bandage if it's likely to come into contact with water or raw seafood or raw seafood juices. Cook all seafood thoroughly and wash your hands after handling raw shellfish.

Most Vibrio infections are gastrointestinal and cause food poisoning-like symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, abdominal pain, and sometimes fever. Symptoms usually start one day after ingestion and last for three days.

Skin infections caused by the bacteria may be inflamed and red, with blisters. The site may also turn deep blue like a severe bruise. A fever may develop and confusion can occur in severe cases. For most people, the skin infection can be treated with antibiotics. However, necrotizing infections can be very serious and move very fast. Immediate emergency medical care is required because the infection can progress rapidly to death, Cennimo said.

People especially at risk of severe and aggressive infection include those with a weakened immune system due to conditions such as liver disease, cancer, diabetes, or HIV, and those who are on immune-suppressing therapy or recovering from stomach surgery.

Source: HealthDay News, Aug. 23, 2019