Skin Health

Flesh-Eating Bacteria: Is My Skin Safe?

During the summer months, trips to the ocean or lakes are a great way to cool off and relax.

Unfortunately, you may be questioning the safety of swimming in these types of water sources as flesh-eating bacteria are making headlines more and more frequently.

Protect Yourself: Intact Skin is Key

Our first line of defense against anything is our skin, and everyone has bacteria living on their skin, Scott Friedstrom MD, an infectious disease doctor with TriHealth Infectious Diseases explains. “Intact skin is key. If you get a break in your skin, and the right organism finds that break, your health can go downhill quickly.”

In all coastal bodies of water, there are a few organisms, including aeromonus hydrophila and vibrio vulnificus, that live in low numbers, and are known to cause serious skin and skin structure infections. These organisms can cause surface infections, or deep infections in your skin tissues. 

Am I at An Increased Risk for Infections?

While these organisms aren’t famous for causing flesh-eating diseases, you’re at an increased risk if you have an open wound, allowing the organism to gain access into your body and colonize. Your risks become further elevated if you have:

  • Alcoholism
  • Cancer 
  • HIV
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

Protect Yourself: Signs and Symptoms

If you do notice a wound after being in open water, Dr. Friedstrom says to wash it right away. “That’s normally the end of it in an otherwise healthy person.”

It’s important to note that serious infections caused by these organisms are rare, but when they occur, it’s dramatic. “These are rapidly advancing, deadly infections that require you to be hospitalized, and require surgeries,” Dr. Friedstrom explains.

If you notice redness, swelling or pain after being in water, don’t ignore it. “Go have it looked at right away, Dr. Friestrom says. “The key is not to ignore obvious signs, which most of us do.”
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