"Since 2010, approximately 700 to 1,200 cases occur each year in the United States," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC, which has been tracking the infections, says those numbers are likely underestimated.
Officials with the Florida Department of Health said in an email to News 6 that necrotizing fasciitis, also known as the umbrella term of "flesh-eating bacteria" is caused by more than one type of bacteria.
Several bacteria common in Florida's water bodies can cause this condition.
Vibrio vulnificus is a subset of flesh-eating bacteria that is naturally occurring in warm, salty waters such as the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding bays.
This kind of bacteria is seen in higher numbers when the water becomes warm, like it does every summer in Florida.
"Waters are getting warmer, and the bacteria love warmer water, so we're all at higher risk," CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus said.
The following four safety tips can help reduce the risk of exposure to the dangerous bacteria.
- The CDC "encourages all people to avoid open bodies of water, pools and hot tubs with breaks in the skin. These can include cuts and scrapes, burns, insect bites, puncture wounds, or surgical wounds."
- If you do have a cut, just make sure it is properly covered. A waterproof Band-Aid will can do. If it falls off in the water, make sure to clean and treat the wound. The Florida Department of Health and the CDC encourage wound care, to keep bacterial skin infection at bay. Keep open wounds covered with clean, dry bandages until healed, and don't delay first aid of even minor, non-infected wounds like blisters, scrapes or any break in the skin, according to the Department of Health.
- However, "severe infections with Vibrio vulnificus are extremely rare" and can be treated with antibiotics or surgery in more extreme cases, according to the Department of Health. Being correctly diagnosed and treated is one of the most important things to prevent the bacteria from spreading.
Symptoms of an infection include redness, swelling, fever, severe pain in the area or red or swollen skin near or around a wound.
- Lastly, if you do seek medical attention, make sure you let your doctor know of any recent water exposures including Gulf or bay waters, pools or hot tubs.
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