As folks are basking in the final days of summer, it’s a good idea to be informed on all the dangers that lie within the warm ocean waters that are unseen to the naked eye, and in some cases, are flesh-eating.
“They told me that if they had to do another surgery that they were most likely going to have to cut my leg off,” Brielle Owens told BuzzFeed News about the life-threatening disease she contracted after deep-sea fishing off Florida’s Gulf Coast.
When Owens, 27, fell out of bed unable to walk, she was rushed to the emergency room.
After examining a culture doctors took from a pimple like bump on her ankle, she was treated with antibiotics and sent home.
But her condition quickly deteriorated and days later she was back in emergency medical care for surgery to remove dead tissue from her foot.
The procedure had to be repeated two additional times. If a third operation was needed, Owens would have had her leg amputated.
“Until it actually happened to me, I honestly only heard of maybe a few cases, but I feel like now I hear of them almost every single week,” Owens said.
Vibrio is typically found in warm ocean waters, and brackish water or a mixture of seawater with freshwater, all over the world.
People typically come into contact with the bacteria when they eat contaminated seafood, like raw oysters, or by exposing cuts or other abrasions on the skin to contaminated water. The bacteria needs salt in order to thrive.
“The key is, if you go swimming and you get an infection, it would probably be wise if it gets very red and inflamed … to seek medical help early,” Geoff Scott, clinical professor and chair of the department of environmental health sciences in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
There’s been a recent rise in skin infection cases of the bacteria. Especially in areas where it wasn’t previously detected, like waters farther North which typically stay colder. Due to climate change, northern waters have been recorded as having warmer temperatures, which creates a better breeding ground for Vibrio.
Delaware Bay reported five cases of the flesh-eating infection, causing one to die.
“We were surprised that we were seeing more wound infections caused by Vibrio this far north,” said Dr. Katherine Doktor, one of the authors of a report linking climate change to the rise in severe skin infections.
The risk factors include those who are immunocompromised, especially those with chronic liver disease.
A recent study revealed people with these pre-existing medical conditions were 80 times more likely to develop the bloodstream infection that destroys soft tissue caused by A Streptococcus or Vibrio Vulnificus than healthy people.
Typically, if you’re in good health you’re less likely to get infected by the bacteria.
Still, if an open wound is exposed, it needs to be treated immediately.
Additionally, if symptoms like watery diarrhea and stomach cramps follow exposure to seawater, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
Doktor added, “I don’t want people to be afraid to go in the water or eat shellfish, but I do think that people who have these risk factors need to be conscious of them.”
David Ireland and his wife immediately responded when his flu-life symptoms worsened over the course of a few days earlier this month.
The 50-year-old man, who is diabetic and takes medicine for high blood pressure, was rushed to the emergency room and diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis. However, in this case, Ireland contracted Strep A, and not vibrio.
“So far his treatment has been to remove 25 percent of his skin from his ankle to his torso, butt and scrotum,” Jody Ireland, David’s wife, told Newsweek.
A side effect of Ireland’s blood pressure medicine is that it cuts off the blood flow to his hands and feet.
“Those may be amputated if he even pulls through,” his wife said. “Doctors are optimistic but are still not sure if he will pull through.”
The Universal Studios worker is currently in a “medically induced stupor,” his brother Daniel told the Miami Herald.
While the infection did not spread to his muscle tissue, Ireland remains in critical condition and is fighting for his life.
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