Every summer, as water temperatures heat up, certain types of bacteria become more prevalent in our warm marine waters — particularly in states where water temperatures stay above 55 degrees year-round.
One type of harmful bacteria known as Vibrio vulnificus (flesh-eating bacteria or necrotizing fasciitis) occurs in these warm waters, and the chances of contracting it can become greater as the number of people enjoying summer water-related activities increases.
While these types of bacteria are a concern during this time of year, you should know that there are water safety precautions you can take to help protect you and your family.
- If you have a weakened immune system, open cut or wound, or a chronic skin condition, stay out of warm ocean waters and the sand. While the flesh-eating symptom generally tends to be found in those with an illness that compromises the immune system, everyone should properly care and seal any cuts on the body and closely monitor any breaks to the skin to prevent infection.
- Check for any beach closures or water quality advisories. Email or call the state or county health department to make sure that there have been no reports of flesh-eating bacteria before going to a water park, pool, beach, or any other body of water. Some states, such as Florida, have Healthy Beach Programs or Clean Beach Programs that include associated websites with results from routine bacterial monitoring.
- When going to the beach, be sure to wear protective water shoes to prevent scrapes and cuts from rocks, shells, and the ocean floor. Any cuts or scrapes that occur while swimming, wading or boating should be washed with clean, running water and soap, and covered with a clean, dry waterproof bandage.
- Avoid swallowing marine water or consuming raw shellfish harvested from waters where Vibrio vulnificus may be present. Since infections can also occur from eating raw shellfish that have been harvested from warm marine waters, cook shellfish thoroughly before consuming.
- Know the symptoms of infection. According to FloridaHealth.gov, symptoms can include red, swollen skin, severe pain including abdominal pain, and fever. According to ater symptoms can show in the form of ulcers, blisters, or black spots on the skin, pus in the infected area, dizziness, and nausea or diarrhea. If Vibrio vulnificus is suspected, seek medical attention and treatment immediately because antibiotics improve survival. By educating yourself and taking these precautions, you can feel better about how and where you choose to take part in summer water activities.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.