Lately, it seems like every news outlet is telling stories with the same headline — each involving someone contracting flesh-eating bacteria. Why does this issue suddenly seem so prevalent and what can we do to protect our kids? Parentology sat down with Brian Katzowitz, MS, Health Communication Specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find out.
What Is Flesh-Eating Bacteria?
The official name of this flesh-eating bacteria is necrotizing fasciitis (NF), a quickly-spreading disease that kills tissue and can cause death in extreme cases.
“Necrotizing fasciitis can actually be caused by a couple of different types of bacterial infection,” Katzowitz says. “There has been a lot of coverage of necrotizing fasciitis in the last few weeks, but it’s too early to know if we’re seeing an increase of cases of NF linked to Vibrio or group A strep.”
Public health experts think group A strep is the most common cause of necrotizing fasciitis.
“Since 2010, approximately 700 to 1,200 cases of necrotizing fasciitis due to group A strep occur each year in the United States,” Katzowitz says, adding this is probably an underestimate.
How does this disease work? When a patient has had an open wound exposed to saltwater or brackish water, bacteria can enter the body. The disease typically spreads quickly from there.
How Can You Prevent This Disease?
Many cases of flesh-eating bacteria have been reported in California and Florida, two states with a lot of beaches. But a map produced by People.com showed other states where people have contracted flesh-eating bacteria: Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, and Texas. The parasite is happiest in waters with a temperature of 55 degrees or above year-round, making the southern part of the East Coast a common target. But thanks to climate change, the bacteria are also going north.
Katzowitz shared his best tips to help avoid infections that could lead to necrotizing fasciitis:
“Stay out of saltwater or brackish water if you have a wound (including cuts and scrapes),” Katzowitz says. Brackish water, he explains, is a mixture of fresh and saltwater; it can often be found where rivers meet the sea.
If you do have an abrasion, Katzowitz says, “Cover your wound with a waterproof bandage if there’s a possibility it could come into contact with saltwater or brackish water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices.” Further, he recommends thoroughly washing wounds and cuts with soap and water if exposed.
Should contact occur that leads to a skin infection, Katzowitz says to alert your medical provider immediately.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a scary disease with 20,000 cases per year being reported. Following these prevention tips can help keep your family safe.
Flesh-Eating Bacteria: Sources
Original quotes from Brian Katzowitz