Local I-Team: How concerned should you be about flesh-eating bacteria?

Local I-Team

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Fears about flesh-eating bacteria around Pickwick Lake have boaters worried about getting in the water.

Last week, a kayaker came down with a serious infection after being in the water near Waterloo, Alabama. And a Memphis Man died after swimming in the Gulf. Despite the recent incidents, one Memphis doctor says don’t panic.

The man from Alabama who kayaked at Pickwick and the Memphis man who died after swimming in the Gulf in Destin both had two different types of bacterial infections, and both types are commonly referred to as flesh-eating bacteria, though the name is deceiving.

“There is no such thing as the flesh-eating bacteria. Flesh-eating bacteria is a term that applies to the medical term, is necrotizing fasciitis, and that’s just a very severe infection of the skin and soft tissue,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Stephen Threlkeld.

Bacteria called Vibrio, which is known to live in warm seawater, is what infected the Memphis man.

The Alabama kayaker was in freshwater, his wife said his was a streptococcus infection, which is common bacteria that is everywhere.

“It can happen to anybody really at any time, and not necessarily related to going to the lake or the ocean or anything like that,” said Dr. Threlkeld.

Dr. Threlkeld said yes, during warm summer months, lakes and rivers likely have larger bacterial loads of organisms, but he says there is no connection between swimming and catching an infection.

“Statistically speaking, it doesn’t happen to many people. When it does happen, it’s very severe and it gets our attention as it should,” said Dr. Threlkeld.

He says infections are most often  associated with open wounds or people with a compromised immune system.

“It can be small wounds. It can enter thru small wounds we can’t even see,” he said.

Dr. Threlkeld says the bottom line; don’t cancel your trip to the lake this weekend. Statistically you are more likely to get in a car accident driving to the lake than you are getting an infection while swimming in one.

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