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Cases of flesh-eating bacteria are spreading. Here’s how to stay safe.

Vibrio vulnificus, a sea-borne bacterium that can cause rapid decay of flesh when inside the human body, could be present in any brackish coastal waters In Florida.
 
A magnified image of Vibrio vulnificus, a sea-borne bacterium that can cause rapid decay of flesh when inside the human body.
A magnified image of Vibrio vulnificus, a sea-borne bacterium that can cause rapid decay of flesh when inside the human body. [ Paul A. Gulig, University of Florida College of Medicine ]
Published Oct. 12, 2023|Updated Oct. 12, 2023

Infections of flesh-eating bacteria are rare, but warmer coastal waters caused by climate change, combined with a growing population of older adults, may result in cases doubling by 2060, a study in Scientific Reports warned earlier this year. Here’s what to look for and how to stay safe:

Infection symptoms:

  • Diarrhea, often accompanied by stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting and fever.
  • Wound infections cause redness, pain, swelling, warmth, discoloration and discharge. They may spread to the rest of the body and cause fever.
  • Bloodstream infections cause fever, chills, dangerously low blood pressure and blistering skin lesions.

To keep yourself safe:

  • Do not go into salt water or brackish water if you have a wound or a recent surgery, piercing or tattoo.
  • Cover wounds with a waterproof bandage if they could have contact with seawater or raw or undercooked seafood and its juices.
  • Wash wounds and cuts with soap and water if they make contact with salt water, brackish water, raw seafood or its juices.

Who’s most at risk?

  • Pretty much anyone can get a wound infection. People with liver disease, cancer, diabetes and those over 40, or those with weakened immune systems, have a higher risk of infection and severe complications.

Sources:

www.cdc.gov/vibrio/wounds.html

my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24884-vibrio-vulnificus