Thursday, February 9, 2023

No cases of ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ in N.C. waters in 2019, swimmers should heed bacteria advisories

Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare, but often serious bacteria that is often labeled 'flesh-eating' and can cause death in those who contract it --- while incidents across the country have been making national headlines, N.C. has yet to have any reports of the illness in 2019.

Higher water temperatures can contribute to the increase of cases of so-called 'flesh-eating bacteria' in swimmers across the U.S. this year, so far, no cases have been reported in North or South Carolina (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Higher water temperatures can contribute to the increase of cases of so-called ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ in swimmers across the U.S. this year, so far, no cases have been reported in North or South Carolina. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Recently there has been an increased number of people contracting the sometimes lethal necrotizing fasciitis after swimming in the ocean or other bodies of water, but visitors to N.C. and beaches in New Hanover County can swim in peace — for now.

According to People Magainze, so far there have been nine reported cases of the so-called ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ in 2019 in multiple states across the country. Six of the nine incidents occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly in the body and can cause death. Accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment, and prompt surgery are important to stopping this infection. See a doctor right away if you have a fever, dizziness, or nausea soon after an injury or surgery,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

While several states along the Eastern Seaboard have been the location of incidents including Virginia and Georgia, there have been no reported incidents of the bacteria in North or South Carolina yet.

“Our communicable disease team reports that there are no cases of people contracting this bacterial infection (Necrotizing Fasciitis) in our area. We’re unaware of the NC Department of Health and Human Services receiving any reports in the state,” New Hanover County Spokeswoman Kate Oelslager said.

The term ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ is commonly used to describe the condition but there are several bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis, however, the most common cause of the disease is group Streptococcus (group A strep), according to the CDC.

Some of these bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis are found in bodies of water naturally but as water temperatures increase their populations are able to multiple.

One such bacteria is known as vibrio vulnificus. 

“Vibrio vulnificus is one of about a dozen species of Vibrio bacteria that can cause human illness, called vibriosisVibrio naturally live in certain coastal waters and are present in higher concentrations between May and October when water temperatures are warmer,” according to the CDC.

When high levels of bacteria are present local governments or groups will often issue beach closures to prevent the contraction of several types of diseases and illnesses.

Related: NC Coastal Federation finds high levels of bacteria, says coastal waters ‘not safe’ for swimming

Swimming advisories issued by the state can be found online and are posted by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. 

Symptoms and early treatment

Necrotizing fasciitis is a somewhat rare occurrence but knowing the signs and symptoms could be life-saving.

“Early symptoms of NF are often mistaken for the flu. They include high fever, sore throat, stomach ache, nausea, diarrhea, chills, and general body aches. Around the same time, patients may notice redness (erythema) and pain or tenderness around the red area. The red area often occurs at the infection point, which may include surgical sites, a cut, scratch, bruise, boil, site of medication or drug injection, or any small injury that could have occurred during daily life. The affected area may also spread from the infection point quickly, sometimes spreading at a rate of an inch an hour,” according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).

Anyone can contract the disorder, however, there are groups of people who are more susceptible to it.

“Conditions and behaviors that increase the prevalence of poly-microbial NF include obesity, poorly controlled or untreated diabetes, chronic kidney failure, HIV, alcohol abuse, abscess, IV drug use, blunt or penetrating trauma, insect bites, surgical incisions, indwelling catheters, chickenpox, vesicles, and (rarely) perforation of the gastrointestinal tract. However, everybody is susceptible to NF,” according to NORD.

The bacteria often enters into a person’s body through an open wound

According to the CDC, “The bacteria most commonly enter the body through a break in the skin, including:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Burns
  • Insect bites
  • Puncture wounds (including those due to intravenous or IV drug use)
  • Surgical wounds

However, people can also get necrotizing fasciitis after an injury that does not break the skin (blunt trauma).”

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