If You've Done This, Don't Go in the Ocean, Doctors Warn—And It's Not Eating
This seemingly benign choice could have fatal consequences, so stay out of the water.
As temperatures across the U.S. are already hitting record-breaking highs, there's little that sounds more appealing than cooling off in the nearest body of water. Going to the beach is one of the most popular summer activities, with 40 percent of Americans saying it's their favorite thing to do during the warmer months, per a survey from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Unfortunately, there are a number of dangers potentially lurking in the ocean water, from stinging jellyfish to strong riptides. Now, doctors are warning of a different danger in the ocean—and one that might impact people differently depending on what they've done recently. Read on to find out why you might want to postpone your beach trip.
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A new danger is popping up in the water earlier than normal.
Doctors in the U.S. are now warning that a flesh-eating bacteria is being found in water four to six weeks sooner than it has in past summers, NBC-affiliate KPLC in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, reported on June 22. Stephen Castleberry, MD, a general surgeon at West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital in Sulphur, Louisiana, told the news outlet that this type of bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, can impact the intestinal tract—and quickly.
"This infection is something that will go from a fun day at the beach to an extremely painful wound within hours," he explained. "Overnight can be sepsis, septic shock, and aggressive therapy to try to do what you can to save life and tissue."
This bacteria can enter your body fairly easily.
Castleberry told KPLC that doctors are most worried about skin infections, as "any break in the skin, even a several-day-old tattoo [or] a small cut that you may not even recognize beforehand" could allow this bacteria to work itself into your skin.
In fact, in 2017 a man who went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico died after going swimming in the ocean just five days after getting a tattoo on his right calf, according to a report published in BMJ Case Reports. Per the report, it was confirmed that the man had been infected with Vibrio vulnificus, likely as a result of going in the water with a recent and unhealed tattoo.
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You should not go in the ocean if you have any open cuts.
Due to this, doctors are warning people to take extra caution if they're going to the beach this summer—especially now as Vibrio vulnificus is being seen earlier than normal. "If you have any kind of fresh wounds, don't go in the water," Castleberry said.
This includes having just gotten a tattoo. Nicholas Hendren, MD, an internal medicine specialist in Dallas, Texas, told Forbes that while people's skin heals at different rates, he recommends waiting at least one or two weeks before going into the ocean after a tattoo. "Everyone, including healthy people, should avoid swimming or seawater exposure until the skin heals after a new tattoo," Hendren said. "I recommend thinking of a new tattoo like a cut with stitches. You want to make sure it is kept clean and dry until the skin heals."
Many people die when infected with this type of bacteria.
A Vibrio vulnificus infection is not something to be taken lightly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this bacteria can "cause life-threatening wound infections." The agency says that many people infected with Vibrio vulnificus have to undergo intensive care or climb amputations. And about one in five people with this infection die, "sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill," the CDC warns.
According to the agency, signs of a Vibrio vulnificus infection differ depending on where the infection is occurring in your body. For a bloodstream infection, you might experience fever, chills, low blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions. For a wound infection, you could have fever, redness, pain, swelling, warmth, discoloration, and discharge. You might also experience watery diarrhea, stomach camping, nausea, and vomiting when infected.
If you were recently in the water and you notice any of these symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately. "When in doubt, go see somebody quick," Castleberry warned.
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