It happens every year. As the weather warms, the words “flesh-eating bacteria” cycle into headlines and social media feeds. After all, those words are much more likely to grab attention than Vibrio vulnificus, the actual name of the bacteria.

Many news reports, whether through hype or the lack of comprehensive information, give the impression of a public health emergency when one does not exist. As a result, we at the Galveston County Health District receive hundreds of calls from unnecessarily panicked people.

Reports rarely highlight the fact Vibrio vulnificus is naturally in saltwater everywhere, the rarity of infections, common pre-existing conditions of those affected or ways to protect against infection. The reports also tend to misinform people that Texas Beach Watch advisories are alerts for “flesh-eating bacteria” when they actually are not.

Perspective

More than 10 million people visited Texas beaches in 2015 and less than 0.00035 percent acquired Vibrio vulnificus. Most of those who get infections recover without long-term health consequences. By comparison, 100 times as many people were killed in vehicle crashes in Texas during the same year.

Pre-existing conditions

The fact is every year a small number of people get Vibrio vulnificus from beach water. It’s unfortunate and an unpleasant experience. But another less-known fact is almost all those affected were at an increased risk due to diabetes, liver disease, or cancer and had open sores or wounds when they got into the water. Healthy people are extraordinarily less likely to get an infection than the ill.

Precautions

Swimming in natural bodies of water anywhere comes with risk. To reduce it, beachgoers with open cuts or sores, especially those with pre-existing conditions, should avoid swimming or check with their doctor first.

If you cut yourself while in natural bodies of water anywhere, immediately leave the water, thoroughly clean the wound and do not return until the wound heals. It’s important to keep an eye on the area for infection or swelling. If either occur, get medical attention immediately. Vibrio vulnificus infections are treatable. Consider wearing water shoes while swimming and gloves or waders while fishing to help prevent cuts.

Texas Beach Watch

Texas Beach Watch advisories are not for “flesh-eating bacteria,” rather Enterococcus, a bacteria commonly found in rainwater runoff. Advisories typically last 48 hours and can be avoided by moving a few blocks to a beach that’s not under advisory. Although infection from Enterococcus is also rare and often less serious than Vibrio vulnificus, the same risk factors apply and same precautions should be followed. Visit www.gchd.org/beachwatch for more information about Texas Beach Watch.

Research the facts

We at the Galveston County Health District urge you to research facts online from sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas Department of State Health Services or our website, www.gchd.org/beachwater.

Thankfully, The Daily News avoids the hype and sensationalization many of the local television stations routinely utilize.

Be careful driving to the beach and always be cautious in natural bodies of water.

Scott Packard is director of communications for the Galveston County Health District.

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(5) comments

George Croix

Often hype, but sometimes not:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/10/21/flesh-eating-bacteria-death-maryland/92514874/

Inside this linked story is this passage:
"In 2014, the five states with the most cases — California, Florida, Washington, Texas and New York — accounted for more than half the 1,200 reported infections although health officials believe that the disease is under reported."

Further on it references 7 deaths. Seven is comparatively low, unless you are one of them.....
Proving....or seeming to....while there's no need to panic, it's also true that you are not just being a silly Willy if you are concerned about Vibrio vulnificus and the possibility, however remote, you might get it if you fail to take appropriate precautions and to assume the possibility of infection so you'll be able to take them....

gchd1
Scott Packard

Hi, George.
Thank you for taking time to read my column. You're exactly right about people, especially those with pre-existing conditions or open cuts/sores, needing to take precautions. That's exactly the point of the campaign-- bringing that information to the forefront because it's rarely highlighted in news reports.
If you have a chance, check out www.gchd.org/beachwater for more information and educational resources.
Thank you,
Scott Packard
GCHD Dir. of Communications

George Croix

Hello, Mr. packard.
Thank you for thanking me.
My purpose, which is sometimes lost in my poor writing skills, was not to find fault with your well written piece, but merely to promote, still and often, people doing more to get themselves up on an issue(s) by doing more than just reading one article. In a mobile world, people in relatively safe areas may well find themselves somewhere that is less so, and should try to be aware of a potential problem before it becomes an actual personal hazard.
Keep up the good work at the GCHD.

George Croix

packard?
Packard...!

NOT close enough.....

gchd1
Scott Packard

Mr. Croix,
I didn't intend to take issue with your comment, I meant to agree and provide a link to more info. Your writing skills are far from poor. Have a good rest of the week!
Thank you,
Scott Packard
GCHD Dir. of Communications

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