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'Flesh-Eating Bacteria' FAQ

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Who is most at risk, and how can people minimize the risk?

Those who eat raw seafood and those who have open wounds and go into warm saltwater risk infection are at risk.

"People with underlying health problems and people who are immune-compromised, especially those with chronic liver disease, are at higher risk," Blackmore says.

Don't go into the water if you have broken skin or open wounds.

Don't eat raw shellfish, especially oysters. Refrigerate leftover fish promptly.

What are typical symptoms?

Someone who eats seafood infected with the bacteria may have vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

An infected wound can become ulcerated -- redden, ooze pus, streak with red lines, or grow in size -- and the skin can break down.

Someone with a compromised immune system may experience fever, chills, very low blood pressure associated with shock, and blistering skin lesions.

Seek medical help right away if you notice these symptoms, Blackmore says.

It's been called a ''flesh-eating'' bacteria -- is that true?

"In vulnerable patients with wound infections, the bacteria can create severe tissue damage and skin breakdown -- necrotizing fasciitis -- at the wound site," Blackmore says. While this is often referred to as ''flesh-eating bacteria," Blackmore says, medical experts consider it a misnomer. ''The bacteria don't actually consume the flesh. The bacteria have toxins that are destroying the cells in the tissue. The cells end up dying from the toxin exposure."

How is it diagnosed, and what is the treatment?

Besides observing symptoms, doctors can test the blood, the wound, or the stool to confirm the diagnosis.

Patients receive antibiotics. The length of treatment and the dose vary by the type of antibiotic used. Some regimens are up to 14 days.

The infected wound is treated, and surgeons may be needed to clean the wound and remove dead tissue. Nurses may apply special bandages to care for the wound.

"Healthy people typically fully recover from an infection," Blackmore says. "Persons with milder infections can recover within a few days. People with underlying illnesses who have more severe forms of the disease have a more extended recovery period."

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