Flesh-eating bacteria (copy)

Flesh-eating bacteria can be found in bodies of water throughout the Gulf South, but a few precautions should keep you safe.

At this point, most people in South Louisiana have fully embraced the summer fun. Trips to the swimming pool and backyard barbecues have already become commonplace, but a trip to the beach may be right around the corner.

Last year, flesh-eating bacteria made the news. If you plan to visit an open body of water, here are some things that you’ll need to know.

Flesh-eating bacteria can be found in bodies of water throughout the Gulf Coast, specifically brackish (bays, marshes and mouths of rivers) or salt water. You can be exposed to this bacteria by direct contact with the water and/or by consuming contaminated seafood.

For most people, swimming in this water will not cause any harm, according to Ochsner physician Tim Durel.

However, he cautions, those with open wounds or sores have an elevated risk to contract flesh-eating bacteria. Many people simply forget about common open wounds such as animal bites or fresh tattoos.

“Don’t be afraid to enjoy a beautiful day at the beach,” Durel says. “However, if you’ve recently had a deep cut that required stitches, you should probably avoid the water until its completely healed.”

It’s nearly impossible to be aware of every small scrape or scratch, so discovering a small abrasion should not lead to panic, he says.

“The best thing to do after swimming is to take a shower," Durel says. "The showers at the beach are meant to rinse off sand, so you should shower back at your home or hotel room with soap.”

Fishermen are generally the most likely to contract flesh-eating bacteria due to their handling of sharp hooks and knives and constant exposure to water. He advises quickly washing fresh cuts with soap and clean water.

Generally, contaminated seafood doesn’t lead to series problems unless ingested in large raw, undercooked quantities or by people with low immune systems, Durel says, adding that thoroughly cooking seafood offers the best protection.