Flesh-Eating Bacteria a Danger in the Chesapeake

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Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — A type of bacterial infection that can lead to amputation or even death if not treated properly has been reported at least five times so far this summer in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, according to the Calvert County Health Department.

Vibriosis is caused by the Vibrio bacteria, which grows in coastal waters. When the weather gets warm, Vibrio multiply in the water and can cause life-threatening infections if they get into a cut or open wound.

People over the age of 60 and anyone with a weakened immune system are particularly vulnerable to serious infections, the Health Department says. Symptoms include redness, ulcers, swelling and a general breakdown of the skin. Vibrio infections spread quickly, and can be fatal once symptoms appear.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene tells The Washington Post that Vibrio infections in Maryland hit a 10-year high of 57 last year.

Laurence Polsky, health officer at the Calvert County Health Department, tells The Post global warming could make instances of dangerous infections more common.

“It is likely that over the next few decades, if global warming continues, the vibrio will start to multiply in the tidal waters of the bay earlier in the year and will persist later into the fall and possibly the winter,” he said. “This will increase the number of people exposed to the bacteria over the course of the year, and the result will be a higher average number of cases as each decade passes.”

The Department of Natural Resources recommends avoiding contact with water if you have open skin wounds. If contact can’t be avoided, DNR suggests:

• Covering wounds with water-proof bandages.
• Cleaning wounds immediately with soap and clean water after contact. If soap
and clean water are not available, clean the wound with hand sanitizer then wash
as soon as possible.
• Wear water shoes to avoid cuts and scrapes.
• Wear gloves and use extra care when handling crab pots or other equipment.
• Always shower after swimming in natural waters and wash hands before handling food or eating.

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