HEALTH ALERT: What other diseases could be lurking in your vacation spots?


DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — For Tony Meredith, waking up with a flesh-eating disease days after vacationing at Panama City Beach was quite a surprise. 

“I never thought it would happen to me,” he told WDHN News last Friday

Meredith’s case of necrotizing fasciitis is statistically rare, affecting 20,000 people a year, but is more common for those with weak immune systems. 

“The highest risk exposures are patients with open wounds, surgical wounds, or who has a previous medical history that would compromise their immune system such as chemotherapy, transplants, things of that nature,” Dr. Andrew Sawyer with Southeast Health said. 

Generally, speaking, there are two types of waterborne diseases that could affect a person: gastrointestinal diseases that cause food poisoning symptoms and soft tissue diseases.

While freshwater has a higher chance of infecting someone with numerous types of bacteria, all bodies of water experience a higher number of pathogens in the summer. Saltwater, while less likely to pass on disease, has its own dangers. 

“Saltwater, in particular, is known for a bacteria called vibrio vulnificus, which can cause significant soft tissue infection,” Sawyer said. 

Avoiding the water when wounded is a surefire way to prevent infection, but what if you sustain an injury in the water or find out it about it later on? Sawyer says its best to clean it and dress it and have first-aid items on hand. 

“First aid items to have would be Polysporin or Bacitracin ointment, bandaids, waterproof bandages,” he said. “If you have a small cut or a nick or a scratch, you can place a waterproof bandage over that, but that’s about it.” 

According to our sister station WMBB, one of the problems the Gulf is seeing right now is an increase in enterococcus bacteria due to heavy rainfall. Those infected might not have tissue damage like Meredith but could experience life-threatening food poisoning symptoms. 

For a list of common waterborne illness, click here

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