What you need to know to protect yourself from flesh-eating bacteria

A doctor said waterparks could be the place most susceptible to flesh-eating bacteria. / Source: (Canva)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- It sounds like an urban legend, but flesh-eating bacteria is no joke.

On July 7, 2019, a Tennessee man died after becoming infected with flesh-eating bacteria after swimming in the ocean.

Saturday, an Alabama man contracted another case of flesh-eating bacteria in a river.

Most recently, a Kentucky man became infected with flesh-eating bacteria during a camping trip.

Officials say that although rivers, lakes and oceans are places to catch flesh-eating bacteria, water parks may be the most dangerous.

"We see a lot more problems in water parks especially where young children are using the water parks," said Dr. Ty Prince of the Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center. "And this is where we see the e-coli which is a bowel bacteria that's been passed into the water and another child has usually ingested it by drinking but it's possible you can get it rectally as well too and in that way."

Dr. Prince says that certain people are more susceptible to catching the bacteria.

"But also if you have problems with your immune system," said Dr. Prince. "You have patients that might be on chemotherapy, you might have patients that have been sick recently, you might have patients that are on other medications that lower their immune systems and those are the patients that have to be real careful."

If you have an open cut, wound or a chronic skin condition, Dr. Prince advises staying out of the water.

Before going to a water park or other body of water, check and make sure there have been no reports of visitors catching any flesh-eating bacteria.

If you have a fever above 101 degrees and an infected open wound after being in the water, you should go to the emergency room immediately.

According to the Knox County Health Department, flesh-eating bacteria, which is technically called necrotizing fasciitis, is not a reportable condition on its own, therefore it's not a trackable disease.

The condition can be triggered by more than one type of bacteria including Vibrio, group A streptococcus and pseudomonas.

The Health Department does track Vibrio infections which are extremely rare. Here are the number of infections over the last several years, according to records:

2013: 0
2014: 1
2015: 0
2016: 3
2017: 3

A health department representative said generally the confirmed cases of vibrio they see are travel related.

In healthy people, the health department said a vibrio infection can cause symptoms similar to a stomach bug, but those with a weakened immune system can have a more severe reaction.

The health department advises anyone with an open wound to avoid swimming pools, hot tubs, and natural bodies of water out of an abundance of caution.

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