Warm weather brings potential exposure to flesh-eating bacteria

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Friday, May 14, 2021
Warm weather brings potential exposure to flesh-eating bacteria
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Flesh-eating bacteria such as vibrio can be found in natural bodies of water such as a backyard stream or large lakes.

If you've been vaccinated you now have a green light from the CDC to do almost any activity without wearing a mask.

But vaccine or not, the safest place to be is still outside and this summer you can bet a lot more people will be out.

However, if you plan to participate in watersports in natural bodies of water, you'll want to be on the lookout for something dangerous that's not COVID-19. Whether it's a backyard stream or a large lake, here in eastern North Carolina a bacteria called 'vibrio' can often be found.

Vibrio is one of the so-called flesh-eating bacteria.

"It's important to know if you're going to be traveling in this area and doing water sports and swimming or fishing, that this is a concern," said Dr. Booker King, the medical director of UNC's Jaycee Burn Center.

While burns are their specialty, they handle other skin-related diseases and injuries, according to Dr. King who said, "We do take care of necrotizing soft tissue infections that can occur for various reasons."

That includes damage from flesh-eating bacteria.

Although we've heard a lot about it in recent years, it is still relatively rare.

But with vibrio in local waterways and lakes, Dr. King says it makes sense to understand how it happens so you can prevent it.

"They tend to be in patients that were swimming or fishing and they either have a cut or overexposed area on their skin," Dr. King said. "And these bacteria get access into their deeper tissues."

So, in order to protect yourself and your loved ones, you simply need to make sure you seal up wounds before exposing open flesh to fresh and even saltwater.

There are plastic bandages that seal around the edges and there are a number of liquid skin adhesives like Dermabond that completely cover wounds.

"Even if you do have that type of bandage, it's always smart to, after your activity to remove that bandage and clean the wound with some type of soap or antiseptic to make sure you get all the contaminants out," Dr. King noted adding, while they don't see that many patients with the flesh-eating bacteria, some of the cases they do see have been very bad, even deadly.

So since precautions are easy, it's much better to be safe than sorry.

"This summer, people want to obviously do watersports and fishing or so forth. Just remember this and stay safe," Dr. King said.

Well worth the effort to make sure open wounds are covered and then cleaned after exposure to lakes, rivers, streams and ocean water.

Learn more about flesh-eating bacteria and prevention at this page on the CDC website.