Harmful bacteria are everywhere, and it's important to protect yourself from a dangerous infection as you enjoy the water this summer.
Flesh-eating bacteria, or necrotizing fasciitis, are found in warm seawater. The brain-eating amoeba, a parasite, and known as naegleria infection, is found in warm freshwater. The warm summer months create the perfect breeding temperatures for these organisms.
Infectious disease experts want people to just assume these harmful bacteria and the amoeba are in the water, because it's hard to test to see just how much of it is in the water.
The flesh-eating bacteria is caused by a number of different types of bacteria, according to Dr. Gerald Capraro, medical director for the clinical microbiology lab at LSU Health Shreveport.
"The most common is Group A streptococcus or streptococcus pyogenes, which is the same organism that causes strep throat in kids," Capraro said. "It's a disease that arises from infection of an injury or a wound and the organism will release toxins into the tissue that basically degrade and destroy the tissue. It can spread very quickly, so it is a serious disease."
Capraro said the primary risk factor for flesh-eating bacteria infection is an open wound that gets infected. When the wound gets infected, signs show after a few hours.
"You start to see redness; you may start to see swelling. There will be pain at the site of the injury, and then after a day or so, if it gets to be more severe, you might see blistering," Caparo said. "You might see black spots around the wound to indicate dead or dying tissue."
It's important to keep the healing area or wound clean and to keep an emergency kit nearby to clean out any wounds that occur or that may come in contact with the open water.
Flesh-eating bacteria infections are treated depending on the case. It's important to be evaluated by a doctor so proper treatment can take place.
When it comes to the brain-eating amoeba or the naegleria infection, the parasite makes its way into the body through the nose, travels up the nasal passage into the brain and then infects the brain. Swimmers shouldn't jump into the water head first.
Again, this amoeba is found in warm freshwater like lakes, ponds and sometimes tap water if it's not properly treated.
It's a wise idea to assume it's there if you go swimming. It's also wise to boil water and let it cool before using it in a nettie pot to clean out sinuses.
"It sounds more sensational than it is, and it is a very serious disease, but over the past 50 years there have been 132 cases of naegleria infection (brain-eating amoeba), and if you consider the millions of opportunities every year of people swimming in natural bodies of water, that's a small number," Capraro said.
He said the biggest things to watch for are the symptoms. Meningitis, fever, headaches, nausea and vomiting are suspicious signs for naegleria infection and a doctor should be contacted immediately for an evaluation.
"If you are otherwise healthy, if you don't have any underlying risk factors that put you in an immune compromised state, then your risks of contracting those infections are very low, but that's always a possibility," Capraro said.
In a KSLA News 12 experiment, we tested four areas of water for bacteria levels: Red River, Cross Lake, hose or tap water and chlorinated swimming pool water. The results should be in by Tuesday, July 29.
"Well certainly we don't want to convey the impression that we can't go swimming in the summertime. My kids would be heartbroken at that," Caparo said. "Everything that we've been talking about are low-risk activities, unless you have some level of underlying disease and then you'd want to be a little bit more careful."
Copyright 2014 KSLA. All rights reserved.