As the temperatures rise during the summer months in Florida, so do reports of people coming in contact with flesh-eating bacteria that can develop into a life-threatening infection known as nectrotizing fasciitis.
The disease is rare, with only 700 to 1,200 cases each year in the United States according to the CDC.
WHAT IS IT?
Necrotizing fasciitis is an infection that destroys soft tissue in the body, and can be deadly if not treated quickly. The infection is usually caused by two types of bacteria known as group A Streptococcus (the same bacteria that causes strep throat) and vibrio vulnificus. Vibrio Vulnificus is found in warm bodies of salt water, which makes Florida a prime spot for people to come in contact with it.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD?
Flesh-eating bacteria enters the body through open wounds or breaks in the skin, according to the CDC. This includes cuts, scrapes, burns, insect bites, and puncture wounds.
According to the Florida Department of Health vibrio vulnificus, the bacteria often found in bodies of salt water, is more of a danger to people with liver disease or weakened immune systems. The department says people with pre-existing medical conditions are 80 times more likely to develop bloodstream infections than healthy people.
If someone contracts a flesh-eating bacteria and is diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis the CDC says symptoms can develop quickly, including red, swollen skin, severe pain including abdominal pain, and fever. The department says later 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.
The CDC says necrotizing fasciitis is a serious illness that requires prompt medical care in a hospital. Antibiotics are typically the first line of defense, but because the infection spreads so quickly doctors will sometimes need to surgically remove the dead tissue, and in extreme cases amputate the infected limb.
The CDC says up to 1 in 3 people with necrotizing fasciitis will die from the infection.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
According to the CDC common sense and good wound care is the best way to preventable bacterial skin infections. It also says to avoid going into the ocean if you have an open wound, and advises wearing water shoes to prevent scrapes and cuts from shells and the ocean floor.