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Protect yourself from flesh eating bacteria

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OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) -

Tuesday, an Ocean Springs family laid to rest their beloved son, brother, and uncle. Nick Duvernay died just days after coming into contact with the flesh eating bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, during a fishing trip in the Gulf.

Dr. David Spencer, Sr. has seen a lot of Vibrio vulnificus over the years. 

"It is a saltwater surviving bacteria, so saltwater does not damage the bacteria, it actually lives in saltwater, so we see it in all of our estuaries," Spencer explained. 

Duvernay's family said he was likely more susceptible to the bacteria because he already had a lowered immune system. Dr. Spencer those with liver problems and other factors are more at risk.

"We also see it in patients who have immuno-suppressive medications or are immuno-suppressed for other reasons." 

But Spencer said that perfectly healthy people are not entirely safe, especially if you enter the water with an open wound, or get injured in the water.

"Probably with a deep puncture wound within the saltwater environment, there is probably a higher risk that someone who is not immuno-suppressed may have higher risk of picking this up." 

Vibrio works fast.  That's why you need to seek treatment just as fast.  

"This disease process can become near full limit within 12 hours to 72 hours after exposure," Spencer explained. 

And if you don't act fast, it can be deadly.  

"Once it gets into the blood stream, the mortality is at least 50 percent, if not greater."

Right now, the risk is greater as well. 

"We do see a spike in some of these infections during the summertime because, first of all, the water is warmer. And second of all, there are more people that are involved in water sports and working in the water during that time," the doctor said. 

So, how can you protect yourself?  

"The best choice is if you have an open wound is not to participate in water sports within the marine environment." 

Again, medical professionals stress that if you start feeling bad and are running a fever shortly after exposure to saltwater, get to a doctor or the emergency room immediately. Treatment includes receiving heavy doses of antibiotics and fluids.

There is good news, as well. Despite the recent cases on the coast, it's still relatively rare, with only 16 cases reported in the state in 2012.

Copyright 2014 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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