How to avoid being the next victim of the flesh-eating bacteria

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GALVESTON, TX - Man, is it just us or does that flesh eating bacteria, Vibrio, seem to be everywhere?!

You won't like the answer. "Vibrio is a bacteria that's naturally present in salt and brackish waters just about everywhere," says Scott Packard of the Galveston County Health District.  (FYI: brackish water is a mixture of freshwater and seawater.)

"So if you've ever swam in an ocean," says Packard, "whether it's locally, the Gulf, whether it's the West Coast or East Coast, you've probably been exposed to Vibrio bacteria and didn't have any sort of negative health reaction."

That wasn't the case for Lake Jackson fisherman Vince Chappell this week. He cut his foot -- and that's key!! -- as he waded into the waters at Aransas Pass. Later, he experienced what he called the worst leg cramps he had ever had, bringing him to tears. His wife took him to the ER, where they said he'd contracted Vibrio.

Packard says, "It's important to note that something that serious is extraordinarily rare, and it's more typical when people have underlying health conditions."

That was the case with Jacinto City's Brian Parrott, who had to have his leg amputated last month. Family said he was diabetic and may have had an open wound going in.

The folks at UTMB Galveston say they see five to 10 cases of Vibrio a year. Compare that to the six million visitors to Galveston Island each year, and you see how rare this really is. But that's no comfort for the recent victims.

So how do you prevent yourself from being the next one? First, don't swallow the water in the Gulf. Spit it out. Vibrio can enter your body by swallowing and give you serious diarrhea.

Second, if you have a compromised immune system (like liver disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV or even asthma), be extra careful.

Third-- and a common denominator in all these recent cases-- don't swim in the Gulf with cuts or open wounds.

"So if you're at the beach and you step on something and it starts bleeding," Packard suggests, "you need to play it safe and go ahead and get out of the water, and not let that open cut get untreated water inside of it."

If you see any redness or swelling, see a doctor right away. You've been warned, folks. Now go out and enjoy yourselves. That's what holiday weekends are for!

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