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Flesh eating bacteria is not a new threat - The Galveston County Daily News : News

September 21, 2014

Flesh eating bacteria is not a new threat

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Posted: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 1:00 pm

GALVESTON — Over the weekend, reports emerged that an Austin woman was recovering from a fight with Vibrio vulnificus, a form of flesh-eating bacteria.

The woman said that she cut her foot on an oyster bed while walking in Galveston Bay. She received stitches and was sent home with antibiotics, but hours later ended up in the hospital again because of a headache.

The woman didn’t lose any limbs or digits, but did have to spend nearly a week in the hospital.

As so often happens when these things happen, a couple news stations jumped on the story. They repeat some of the more terrifying aspects of an infection, including a 50 percent mortality rate (a figure that applies not to all cases, but to infections of people with liver disease.)

Vibrio vulnificus is not a newcomer to Galveston or the Gulf. Infections are rare, but are common enough that the Galveston County Health District has a standard response to infections.

“Any time people are swimming in untreated water such as the Gulf or bays they should exercise caution and use common sense.  People with cuts or open sores or wounds should avoid exposing them to salt water or any untreated water,” said Kurt Koopman, the health district’s spokesman, in an email.

According to the Centers for Disease Control there were more than 900 reports of Vibrio vulnificus between 1988 and 2006 in Gulf Coast states. Of the approximately 50 cases a year, about 16 proved fatal annually.

It’s nasty stuff, and if you’re have an open wound or a compromised immune system, you should probably avoid getting in the any untreated water — whether it’s in Galveston or not.

The woman who was recently infected did the right thing by going to hospital when she felt her symptoms worsen. But generally, the data shows that infections are rare and that serious cases are even more rare.

There is no evidence that infections are becoming more frequent or more fatal. So, currently it’s still as safe as it ever was to be in the water.