Experts: Flesh-eating’ bacteria is most common in Gulf Coast waters

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by Shern-Min Chow / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on May 22, 2012 at 11:01 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 22 at 11:01 AM

HOUSTON—The so-called “flesh eating” disease is relatively rare, but is most common in the Gulf Coast waters.  With beach season officially beginning in less than one week, 11 News wanted to know who is most at risk. 

There are different versions of the rare, but devastating disease.  It can attack in fresh water, as with the Georgia student who lost a leg and both hands.  It’s more often found in warm salt water, particularly the Gulf, and can even be contracted through Strep A.

Baylor College of Medicine Dr. Robert Atmar, an infectious diseases expert, explained that’s the same thing that gives you strep throat.

He routinely works at Harris County’s Ben Taub Hospital and estimates that hospital sees perhaps half a dozen of the cases a year. 

Typically a patient has an open wound, which is how the bacteria enters the body. 

“It can be a fast moving infection,” said Atmar, who has treated several patients.

Inside just a day, muscle and tissue can be ravaged.  Vibrio Vulnificus, the bacteria found in warm salt water, is the best understood. As temperatures rise, so does the bacteria count.

“Summer, late summer, early fall it grows to higher levels,” he said. “It’s at higher level in shellfish.” 

Experts agree that is when to avoid raw oysters and Gulf waters, if you have an open wound and a compromised health system.  At risk patients include those with diabetes and liver problems, which are often exacerbated by heavy drinking. 

Vibrio Vulnificus is fatal about 40 percent of the time.  Experts advise if you get a high fever or redness around an open wound, one to three days after swimming in warm salt waters, seek immediate medical attention.

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