It’s that time of the year again. Our surrounding areas are receiving lots of media coverage about what the media calls “flesh eating bacteria.”
The Florida Department of Health in Franklin County is urging proper wound care and working to put these news reports in perspective.
In late July, TV outlets reported that a Pinellas County man had been infected with necrotizing fasciitis after the bacteria entered his body while swimming with his wife off the coast of St. George Island. The microorganism likely entered his body through a pinhole where he had been injected with steroids a few days earlier.
Sarah Hinds, director of the county health department said her office did not have information on the man’s illness.
In a news release, the department said the fasciitis is caused by more than one type of bacteria. Several bacteria common in our environment can cause this condition, the most common cause Group A strep. People do not “catch” necrotizing fasciitis; it is a complication or symptom of a bacterial infection that has not been promptly or properly treated.
One such naturally occurring bacteria is vibrio vulnificus, which is found in warm salty waters such as the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding bays. No cases of this have been reported in Franklin or Gulf Counties.
Necrotizing fasciitis and severe infections with vibrio are rare, but exposures occur more commonly during the months from May to October, when the water is warmer and concentrations of this bacteria are higher.
Raw shellfish can also be contaminated with vibrio, so it is important for people with compromised immune systems to thoroughly cook oysters and other shellfish to avoid getting sick.
Infections can be treated with antibiotics and sometimes require surgery to remove damaged tissue. Rapid diagnosis is the key to effective treatment and recovery.
If you are healthy with a strong immune system, your chances of developing or having complications due to this condition are extremely low.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages all people to avoid open bodies of water such as the Gulf, pools and hot tubs with breaks in the skin, which can include cuts and scrapes, burns, insect bites, puncture wounds, or surgical wounds.
The Florida Department of Health and the CDC encourage good wound care, as the best way to prevent bacterial skin infection. Keep open wounds covered with clean, dry bandages until healed and don't delay first aid of even minor, non-infected wounds like blisters, scrapes or any break in the skin.
Seek medical treatment immediately if you develop signs or symptoms of an infection (redness, swelling, fever, severe pain in area of red or swollen skin) near or around a wound.
People with the greatest risk of exposure to bacteria in water bodies, pools or hots tubs are very young children, the elderly (over 64 years old), and people with chronic diseases and/or weaken immune systems since their ability to fight off infection can be limited by disease or age.
It is important for individuals receiving medical care to let their doctor know of any recent exposure to Gulf or bay waters, pools or hot tubs. Timely treatment is necessary to prevent serious complications.
If you have any concerns please call the health department in Franklin County at 653-2111.