Should we be concerned in SWLA over flesh-eating bacteria?

Should we be concerned in SWLA over flesh-eating bacteria?

There is yet another new case of a rare, flesh-eating bacteria in Georgia. But should we be concerned here in Southwest Louisiana?  7News talked to Dr. Abhishek Agarwal, a family medicine physician at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, about the bacterial threat locally and how it is contracted.

Necrotizing fasciitis, it is a very rare, but very serious condition that is making national news as three people in Georgia and one in South Carolina struggle to live and keep their limbs after contracting the bacteria.  "It happens when the bacteria enters the deeper layers of the skin through a cut in the skin," said Dr. Agarwal, "it could be a surgical wound - any break in the skin."

Dr. Agarwal says this bacteria is not region-specific.  "This can happen even in healthy individuals, who don't take care of a break in the skin," he said.

If you do not have a break in the skin, you are safe to swim in open waters, but if there is a cut and you are in open waters, you are exposing yourself to the bacteria that can be life-threatening.  "The waters with more bacteria," said Dr. Agarwal, "are the ones with shell fish around or oysters, then you're exposing yourself to a bacteria infection."

Amy Copeland in Georgia contracted the flesh-eating bacteria after falling off a zipline and cutting her leg. Paul Bales was recently admitted to the same hospital, after falling and cutting himself. Landscaper Bobby Vaughn is there too, and had several pounds of infected flesh removed.

A few hours away in South Carolina, Lana Kuykendoll remains in critical condition.  The flesh-eating bacteria attacked her just days after giving birth to twins.

While those patients are states away, Clarene Clark of Iowa is a reminder that the bacteria can affect anyone anywhere - something she learned after flipping her car into a ditch near Topsy.  "The doctor came in and told me if I wanted to live, they had to go ahead and take my leg," she said.

Once the bacteria gets into the deep layers of tissue, it spreads fast - which is why early detection is so important.  "Too much pain for the way the wound looks, then that's a clue, plus you want to look out for high fevers with chills, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and changes in the skin," said Dr. Agarwal.

If your summer plans involve swimming in local waterways or vacationing at a beach, the most important action you can take is to stay out of the water if you have an open wound and take care of it.

While it is called "flesh-eating bacteria," what it actually is doing is dissolving the flesh. The bacteria releases a toxin that dissolves skin, fat and tissue.

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