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Surprising New Threat to Swimmers is on the Rise

The vibrio bacteria—the cause of a flesh-eating disease—kills more beachgoers and fishermen in the United States than shark attacks worldwide. It is also a rising cause of food-borne diseases from raw seafood, especially oysters.

There are several strands of the vibrio bacteria. While the vibrio cholerae (which causes cholera and food poisoning) survives in fresh water, most other vibrio bacteria are found in salt and brackish waters, where the risk of becoming infected is greatest. The bacteria enters the body through a tiny cut or mosquito bite. Fiery pain sets after a few hours, and the flesh-eating infection causes death if not treated within the first couple of days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 1,900 people a year contract vibrio wound infections, and it’s a rising trend due to global warming and the rise of northern water temperatures. Prolific algae blooms and sewage runoff also tend to invite higher concentrations of the vibrio bacteria. Unfortunately, since this type of infection is an anomaly for the northern parts of the country, victims and hospital workers often do not realize what they are dealing with.

With beach season upon us, keep these things in mind to keep your family and yourself safe:

Ø Keep out of the water if you have open cuts or wounds

Ø Wear protective gloves and clothing when fishing, or handling raw shellfish

If you experience swelling, pain, fever, blistering or redness, go to the emergency room immediately, as the disease spreads very quickly, and is lethal.

For more summer safety tips, check out these five ways to protect your kids this season. And, in case you don’t know which is the greater risk—vibrio, or those pesky sharks—check out How to Avoid Being Bit by Sharks, which tells you how to at least deal with the shark scenario.

ABC 7News May 23, 2007

StoriesThatMatter.org May 23, 2007