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Flesh Eating Bacteria: How You Can Keep Safe This Summer

Aug 14, 2019 10:00:00 AM    posted in Infection Prevention

A condition that sounds -- and looks – like something from a horror movie has been hitting the news again. Outbreaks of necrotizing fasciitis, referred to colloquially as "flesh-eating bacteria," have begun appearing at a higher rate according to a study discussed on Live Science, especially in New Jersey and Delaware. Even a slight uptick of such a dramatic and deadly condition in that area (five cases over the course of two summers as opposed to one case in the previous eight years) has made researchers take note. While rare, necrotizing fasciitis is alarming, so it’s not surprising that even publications like People have begun highlighting the impacts. 

The chances of running into necrotizing fasciitis are statistically slim, but the general public may have questions about staying safe from this much-discussed bacterial infection. The following facts will help you understand why necrotizing fasciitis may be on the rise, and the steps to take to stay safe. 


What is Flesh-Eating Bacteria?

What people tend to mean when they use this term "flesh-eating bacteria" is necrotizing fasciitis, a condition that can occur when someone becomes infected by one of a few different types of bacteria. According to the Centers For  Disease Control (CDC), the bacteria most commonly associated with necrotizing fasciitis are group A Streptococcus. The most recent rash of high-profile outbreaks has been attributed to a bacterium called vibrio vulnificus. 


How Do People Get Flesh-Eating Bacteria?

The "flesh-eating" bacteria enters the body either through a wound in the skin or through ingestion and begins rapidly destroying skin and muscle tissue. In the case of recent v. vulnificus infections, people appear to have contracted the condition from entering into bacteria-colonized water with open wounds on their bodies, or from eating tainted seafood.

Where Are People Most at Risk?
Different bacteria live in different environments, and this is true of bacteria capable of causing necrotizing fasciitis. In the case of v. vulnificus, the bacteria thrives in warm water. This has lead to concern from researchers that climate change could be the culprit behind recent spikes in summer infections, with waters farther north growing warmer and thus more hospitable to the bacteria.


How to Stay Safe From Flesh-Eating Bacteria 

Infection Control Today reports that with v. vilnificus’s migration northward, infection control specialists have begun advising people to avoid water in those impacted regions if they have open cuts, or to cover those cuts with waterproof bandages. Avoiding handling raw shellfish and not consuming raw or undercooked seafood can also reduce risk. Cooks, fishermen, and others who might come into contact with the bacteria at work should wear appropriate gear like protective gloves. 

Remaining vigilant about cutaneous symptoms like blistering, redness and apparent bruising is also critical – infection must be treated quickly to avoid serious complications. 


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