Death from the flesh-eating bacteria Vibro vulnificus is rare, but each summer a story pops up about someone fighting for their life after this contracting this bacterium. Only 100 people in the U.S. die each year after being infected with Vibro vulnificus, which thrives in warmer water. The bacterium can enter the body through an open wound, and a tattoo is one type of open wound that many people walk around with today, with some not considering this a type of wound at all, but it is.
Tattoos are more prevalent today than any other time in history for both males and females. Long gone are the stigmas of being a tough guy when sporting a tattoo, as today it is body art and a way of expressing yourself. When getting a tattoo, you are getting thousands of tiny pinhole pricks with a needle and each one of these holes is essentially an open wound until the skin heals. The bigger the tattoo, the more open wounds that you have on your body to heal.
As CNN News reports, each of these tiny open wounds is potentially a pathway for germs to enter your body. The bigger the tattoo, the more potential avenues for bacteria. With that said, the tattoo artist gives you specific instructions on caring for that tattoo for the days following the inking of your new body art until the tattoo is healed.
“The No. 1 thing to avoid while a tattoo heals is soaking it,” writes CNN News. That is followed by the instruction to keep that healing tattoo clean and covered. Avoiding prolonged exposure to water as your tattoo heals is another safeguard that the experts recommend, such as take a quick shower in lieu of a bath.
In the publication BMJ Case Reports, a recent case of a 31-year-old man going swimming five days after getting a tattoo acts as a warning to heed the instructions you get from the person who inked your tattoo. The unnamed Texas man came into the hospital three days after he’d gone swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, making his tattoo eight-days-old by then.
The man had a tattoo of a cross and praying hands with the words “Jesus is my life,” which was inked on his right leg. When the man arrived in the emergency department with “severe pain in both of his legs and feet,” he was admitted to the hospital. He had a fever and chills along with redness on his legs, particularly around the area of his tattoo.
The lead author of this case study is Dr. Nicholas Hendren, who is an internal medicine resident at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Hendren said their attention was drawn to his right leg, where he was complaining of a lot of pain. This was the leg that sported the tattoo.
Hendren states that it only took a few hours for things to get progressively worse, and he was declining pretty quickly.
The doctor said, “There are darkening skin changes, more bruising, more discoloration, what we call bullae — or mounds of fluid that were starting to collect in his legs — which, of course, is very alarming to anyone, as it was to us.”
His tests came back positive for Vibro vulnificus, which is a bacterium common in the coastal waters of the ocean. It is often referred to as the “flesh-eating bacteria.” His official diagnosis was vibriosis, which sickens approximately 800,000 people and kills about 100 of them each year in the United States, according to CNN.
According to Live Science, “People can become infected with the bacteria in two ways: By consuming contaminated seafood, or by having an open wound that comes into direct contact with seawater that contains the bacteria.” In this man’s case, he contracted it through his open tattoo wounds while swimming.
By the time the man came to the hospital, he was in the early stages of septic shock, which progressed very rapidly to severe stages of septic shock over the next 12 hours. Hendren said that this rapid decline is something that is expected with this type of infection. This man, who was a daily beer drinker consumed six 12-ounce beers every day and this left him with liver disease. This made it much harder for the man to fight off this infection.
According to the BBC News, Vibrio vulnificus is also called the flesh-eating bacterium. While the bacterium is found in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it is during the warmer months when the risk of contracting this bacteria rises. This man was put on life support just 24 hours after arriving at the hospital.
This man had liver disease, leaving him with a compromised immune system. This man fought for his life for the weeks that followed and the doctors kept him mostly sedated during this time.
At one point it looked as if he had rallied and the doctors became “cautiously optimistic” on his outlook for recovery, but that changed. From that point, his condition slowly worsened and he died after being in that hospital for two months. His cause of death was “septic shock.”
Hendren closed his case study with saying he isn’t passing along a message that people should not get a tattoo. His message is simply – if you are going to get a tattoo, do it safely. Make sure you are using a licensed tattoo parlor and make sure to care for that wound, which is what a tattoo initially is, and “treat it like any other wound.”
[Featured Image by Silvia Izquierdo/AP Images]