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Health

Woman Battles Flesh-Eating Bacteria Contracted In Ocean (Photos)

| by Alex Scarr

A woman was airlifted to a local hospital after flesh-eating bacteria she picked up while swimming caused a severe infection in her leg.

Bonita Fetterman was taken to a North Carolina hospital with the potentially deadly infection after what her daughter said was a dip in the ocean near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to WCNC.

Fetterman's daughter, Marsha Barnes Beal, posted images of her mother's leg to Facebook along with a post explaining what happened. In the post, Barnes Beal said that her mother was sedated and on a breathing machine but stable. Both Barnes Beal and doctors said they were hopeful that the bacteria had not spread beyond Fetterman's leg.

Officials for Myrtle Beach have not confirmed the existence of flesh-eating bacteria in its waterways.

"We have had no reports and no direct contact about any such issues," said the Myrtle Beach City Government in a statement, according to WCNC. "The city has been unable to confirm the location or date of any such incident ... Our ocean water quality is tested twice weekly, with excellent results. If we can determine where such contact may have occurred, we can order additional water quality tests to determine whether any connection exists."

The particular strain of flesh-eating bacteria was not immediately determined. While rare, infections caused by flesh-eating bacteria can be fatal if left untreated. They crop up mostly in those with compromised immune systems.

Flesh-eating bacteria are most commonly found in warm waters with low salinity, such as rivers and lakes. They are less commonly found in oceans.

Common illnesses related to the bacteria are necrotizing cutaneous mucormycosis, necrotizing fasciitis, and vibriosis, all of which will exhibit flesh-eating symptoms if they come in contact with an open wound.

"I encourage residents to practice good wound care, as it is the best way to prevent a bacterial skin infection,” said an administrator for the Florida Department of Health. "Keep open wounds covered with clean, dry bandages until healed and don't delay first aid of even minor, noninfected wounds like blisters, scrapes or any break in the skin."

Often the bacteria enters the body through raw or undercooked seafood, particularly shellfish. The majority of the roughly 80,000 people who come in contact with these bacteria on an annual basis are exposed through improperly handled or undercooked shellfish, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention.

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