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Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 12:13pm

Infections No Reason To Avoid Water

At least three people in Georgia and a woman in South Carolina are battling so-called “flesh-eating” bacteria. But that should not stop Georgians from swimming in lakes or rivers as summer begins, experts say.

In at least two cases, the patients have been in or around water and have cut themselves. But most people shouldn’t avoid water bodies out of fear of infection, said John Fisher, an infectious diseases doctor at Georgia Health Sciences University. He said the risk is higher if you have a deep wound that’s still healing.

“In people visiting the lakes and the beaches and things like that, keeping an eye on those wounds, thoroughly cleansing them with soap and water [will help prevent dangerous infections," he said. "Those [wounds] that are sutured need very good follow up to make sure that an infectious complication isn’t developing.”

Fisher said people with suppressed immune systems also have a higher risk. He said these serious infections, called necrotizing fasciitis, are fairly rare.

“It’s not extremely common, but we see several cases of fasciitis here in our hospital every year," Fisher said.

The most common causes of necrotizing fasciitis are the common staph and strep bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports up to 800 cases a year of strep infections become fasciitis nationwide. And doctors don't like the term “flesh eating.” They say the bacteria is not eating flesh. It’s really a deep infection of the connective tissue around muscles and blood vessels.

Typically, the infection is caused by strep or staph germs, but in the case of a west Georgia college student, it was caused by different common bacteria.