How risky is ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ for Maryland, Virginia beachgoers?

Not very — that’s according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A young boy is recovering from so-called “flesh-eating bacteria,” after his mother says he was diagnosed with a Vibrio infection, after a visit to Ocean City.

The boy’s mother, Brittany Carey, said in a Facebook post, her son had been swimming in the Sinepuxent Bay, north of the bridge between West Ocean City and the downtown area. She included photos of his spreading sores, which are now healing well.

Health officials say severe cases of vibriosis are rare, and water is safe to swim in.

According to the CDCVibrio bacteria naturally live in certain coastal waters and are present in higher concentrations between May and October when water temperatures are warmer. Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths, per year.

Most people get vibriosis from eating raw and undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters. The symptoms are watery diarrhea and cramping.

In rare cases, Vibrio can enter a body through an open wound — including a cut or a scrape — after contact with brackish water, which is found in bays, near where rivers meet the ocean.

People with compromised immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease are more likely to get vibriosis.

The CDC says to reduce the chance of getting vibriosis, avoid contact with salt water or brackish water, or cover the wound with a waterproof bandage, and shower after swimming.

Maryland’s Department of Health suggests wearing water shoes and carrying hand sanitizer so that wounds that occur during contact with water can be cleaned immediately.

The main thing to remember, according to the CDC: If a wound seems to be infected after contact with salt or brackish water, see a doctor promptly.

Vibrio infection is diagnosed when the bacteria are found in the stool, wound or blood of a patient who has symptoms of vibriosis. In mild cases, treatment is not needed, but patients should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through diarrhea.

According to the CDC, most people with mild illness recover after about three days.

However, people with Vibrio vulnificus — or flesh-eating — bacteria can get seriously ill, with necrotizing wounds, which could require amputation.

“About 1 in 5 people with this type of infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill,” according to the CDC.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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