When you head to the beach on a hot summer day, the water probably looks so alluring that you don’t think twice about what’s lurking inside before diving in for a swim. When you do consider potential threats at the beach, you might think about the large creatures that live in the water, but it’s actually bacteria that can do the most damage. With two recent cases of flesh-eating bacterial infections originating from trips to Texas beaches, you may be reconsidering your safety on the shore. Before you panic and avoid the beach altogether, read on for some facts about necrotizing, or flesh-eating, bacteria and the other dangers you should be aware of to play it safe by the water.

What to know about necrotizing bacterial infections

Unlike most bacterial skin infections, which are relatively mild and treated quickly with antibiotics, necrotizing fasciitis can become life-threatening. It is also not uncommon for necrotizing bacterial infections to lead to amputation, as was the case for one Texas man this year. Anyone is susceptible to an infection from necrotizing bacteria, but it is important to remember that these infections are quite rare. Still, it’s helpful to know the causes and the symptoms of flesh-eating bacteria so that you can protect yourself.

What you can do to stay safe

Most often, necrotizing bacteria will target open wounds when a person is in water, either in a natural body of water or a hot tub. Hot tubs are particularly dangerous, because they are kept at ideal temperatures for necrotizing bacteria. Therefore, proper cleaning of hot tubs and heated pools is essential. On the beach, you should make sure that any wound, even just a small cut, is well-cleaned and bandaged. Avoid going in the water if you have any existing infections or open wounds, and do not handle any raw seafood. If you sustain a wound in the water, get out immediately and seek first aid to thoroughly clean and disinfect the wound. While the threat of flesh-eating bacteria is scary, you can prevent these infections with smart wound care and overall good health. Signs of necrotizing infections can be somewhat tricky, since many people think they have a different type of illness at first when symptoms are limited to muscle soreness and swelling. Pain will quickly become severe, however, letting you know to seek immediate medical care.

What else you should watch for on the beach

Whenever you do go to the beach to swim in a lake, ocean, or river, remember that swimming in natural bodies of water is riskier than going into the local pool. Currents and waves can be very strong, so you should pay attention to how the water is moving, and never attempt to swim against a rip current. Make a habit of swimming parallel to the shore, rather than away from it. This way, you can break free from a current and be sure that you do not get pulled too far from the beach. While water in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic may be perfectly warm, beachgoers on the West Coast should remember that the waters of the Pacific can stay very chilly even on the warmest days of summer, so dressing in layers is a smart way to keep comfortable.


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