Doctors: Low risk of infection from bacteria in Gulf of Mexico

News 4 San Antonio Photo

SAN ANTONIO -- You've seen the pictures of flesh-eating bacteria making the rounds on social media. You've probably also heard the stories saying, 'Avoid coastal waters'. But local doctors explain what you need to know to be able to enjoy that visit to Texas beaches.

The gruesome pictures you've been seeing are from what doctors call a more extreme infection from a kind of bacteria found in the gulf. But before you cancel your trip, doctors say they don't see too many cases of it.

It's primetime beach season. But some people, like Juan Rivera, are having second thoughts

"We kind of postponed the trip to Corpus [Christi]," said Rivera.

The reason? Some unsettling pictures of an infection caused by bacteria that's been found in the waters near Corpus Christi.

"It's called Vibrio vulnificus," said Dr. Jason Bowling, an infectious disease specialist at UT Health Science Center.

Dr. Bowling says the bacteria is naturally found in warm salt water.

"So the gulf coast is a nice habitat for this bacteria," said Bowling.

The most common ways people get an infection is from eating raw or undercooked seafood and contact with an open wound in salt water. State health data shows there were 102 vibrio cases last year. So far this year only 27 have been reported and only 40 percent of those were wound related.

"So it is a less common infection that we see," said Bowling.

If an infection is starting to take place, Dr. Bowling says it can take a while for symptoms to show.

"It takes around 12 to15 hours to about seven days is the window time where it can incubate," said Bowling.

Indicators of a vibrio infection can range from those similar to food poisoning to fever.

"Particularly if they start having fever or if they start noticing big blisters those are warning signs that this might be an infection related to this bacteria needs to be addressed right away," said Bowling.

Bowling says the coast is still a safe place to go, but some are playing it safe anyways.

"Especially right now with all the area lakes all full," said Rivera, who usually travels down to Corpus Christi a couple times a year. "I'll just stay here in town."

If you are planning to go down to the gulf soon, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You're at greater risk if you have a weaker immune system or have some type of liver disease.
  • If you have a wound, eliminate contact with salt water.
  • If you get cut in salt water, doctors say to get out, clean the wound, and then keep an eye on the symptoms mentioned.

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