There have now been three reported cases of Vibrio Vulnificus, or flesh-eating bacteria, found in the state of Alabama. Two out of three cases were contracted due to exposed wounds in area waters that contain the bacteria, the third was a case of consuming raw oysters in another state and is unrelated geographically. This has prompted health officials to issue a warning about this flesh-eating bacteria, which occurs naturally in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Generally, this flesh-eating bacteria is avoidable and you are unlikely to get sick just from going swimming in the Gulf or other warm waters like it. However, the chances of infection are significantly higher if you have an open wound, no matter how small; or if you are already immunocompromised due to a chronic condition like diabetes, cancer, and many other conditions. While this bacteria can almost always be found in the Gulf waters the amount of it is elevated during the summers due to the extremely warm water temperatures.
Though most cases of people being infected by Vibrio Vulnificus are minor if it goes untreated for too long the infection can spread so far that amputation is the only option – and in extreme and rarer cases the individual dies, likely due to a secondary infection like staph. This was exactly the case when a 31-year-old man went swimming in the Gulf days after getting a new tattoo – he was hospitalized for over a week, they debated amputation when things started to turn around, but in the end he died from septic shock.
In the statement released this week by Alabama Department of Public Health officials warned against swimming in brackish or saltwater, especially during the hot summer, if you have any open wounds or are more susceptible than others to infection. They also warned that anyone who had should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and fresh water, and then seek medical attention. Signs of infection include fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain and symptoms usually develop within 24-hours of infection. The sooner you get medical attention, the better your chances are of being treated without extreme measures like amputation needing to be taken.
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