The skinny on flesh-eating bacteria


Staying safe from water infection

AVOCA, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – There’s nothing quite as refreshing as swimming on a hot day. But lately, it seems we’re hearing more about swimmers who are encountering a serious skin infection. It’s been so severe, it’s even proven fatal.

That infection is the result of flesh-eating bacteria that enter the body. As Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller explains, it raises a couple of questions: how does this happen and how can you protect you and your family

Hitting the beach is the summer break many of us look forward to each year. But there’s danger lurking in the water you can’t even see that can make you very sick. “The infections that have been in the news have been cases of necrotizing fasciitis that is bacteria that have the ability to advance very quickly,” said Commonwealth Health Family Medicine Physician Tina George, MD.

The flesh-eating bacteria attacks the body’s soft tissue after entering through an open wound. Dr. George said, “Small scrapes are probably not a big deal in terms of going into water but if you have any open wounds, significant lacerations or open wounds, you shouldn’t really be in water both for your own safety and for the safety of others.” Left untreated, it can result in amputation and even death.

Some of us are more vulnerable to flesh eating bacteria than others according to Dr. George. “Often, they have underlying health issues like diabetes or they are immuno-compromised for some reason and those things make them far more susceptible to those kinds of infections.”

The bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis thrive in warm water and we’re not just talking the ocean or a swimming pool. “We tend to see things like hot tubs associated with skin infections. Those are usually staph and strep infections but they can form boils and progress very quickly.”

Dr. George says it’s important to avoid summer injuries that often come while walking barefoot which give flesh-eating bacteria a point of entry after you’ve hit the water. If you suffer a puncture wound, get the treatment you need. “Rinsing it very thoroughly. Cleaning the area and then putting an antibiotic ointment on and watching it closely. If the wound is deep, making sure that you’re up to date on your tetanus vaccination as well,” she said. Treatment could also include a visit to urgent care and prescription antibiotics.

The bottom line is you should be aware but not afraid of taking a dip this summer. Just make sure you monitor the condition of your skin and your overall health for possible signs of infection.

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