When you think of flesh-eating bacteria, the phrase may bring to mind horror movies or Sci-fi flicks that only deal in the supernatural and are not rooted in reality.
But here’s the truth: the flesh-eating bacteria is real, and it’s known as the Vibrio bacteria.
This bacteria has stirred up concern and caused Alabama’s public health department to issue warnings about its spread.
The Vibrio bacteria can lead to skin infections, which are typically quite mild, but in severe cases, the infection can lead to the necessity of amputation and may even prove to be fatal.
Four incidents of infection with Vibrio have occurred in the area of Alabama, with six more currently under investigation.
The news of these infections has caused some panic among residents, worrying them that it may be too dangerous to swim in the waters in the state.
Dr. Sinead Ni Chadian, a microbiologist with the University of South Alabama, has provided a breakdown of this bacteria and what to do about it.
Dr. Chadian states that Vibrio is, in fact, a bacteria that is naturally occurring and is virtually always present in the coastal waters of Alabama.
When summer comes around and the waters warm to about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the amount of this bacteria in those waters increases. This is also around the time more people choose to go swimming, hence the increase in cases.
There are several different species of Vibrio bacteria, but the Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are the most infectious often reported around the Gulf coast.
According to Dr. Chadian, the one currently making its way through Alabama is Vibrio vulnificus. Infections caused by this specific species amount to more than 8,000 annually, though only 100 are recorded to be fatal.
Often, fatalities from this bacteria come from a lack of proper treatment.
The waters found in the Gulf of Mexico, brackish in nature, are most commonly chosen as the habitat for the Vibrio bacteria. The mix of saltwater and freshwater make it a habitable environment for this bacterium.
Swimming among them will not automatically lead to an infection, but if you have open wounds or cuts – and even abrasions or sores – you should keep out of the water in the summer until you heal.
This is because the bacteria gets into the body through these openings, and it multiplies extremely quickly once it has made its way into the bloodstream.
Do note that you can also develop an infection from Vibrio bacteria through consumption of infected seafood.
As such, those who have weaker immune systems, diabetes, or liver problems should steer clear of coastal seafood for most parts of the year in order to avoid infection through this means.
Some symptoms that show up after infection are:
- Swelling at the infected area
- Infected area becoming heated
- Abdominal pain
These symptoms may show up within hours post-infection. Usually, a skin check is sufficient to detect and diagnose this infection, but blood tests are often necessary to confirm this diagnosis.
To treat Vibrio, doctors typically prescribe a variety of antibiotics.
As of now, all reported cases of Vibrio infection have been relatively mild, but the health department urges citizens to be aware of the possibility of this infection and to detect symptoms should they occur.
Most cases of this infection are cured within 3 days and have no serious side effects if medical attention is sought early.