Swim at your own risk: Dangerous bacteria could be in waterways

Water lures people during summer months. But waterways can breed deadly bacteria when the weather is warm.

There have been injuries and deaths over the years from flesh eating bacteria and even brain eating organisms.

Holly Yust, 9, was an avid water skier. The water she loved became her enemy. She died last week in Kansas from a brain eating amoeba.

"You're not going to get it by drinking the water, you get it with water going up your nose and reaching your brain. It can cause meningitis, seizures, and in 97 percent of the cases, death," said Dr. Fred Lopez, an infectious diseases expert at LSU.

He says the brain eating amoeba is actually seen in fresh water, lakes, rivers and hot springs.
A brain eating amoeba killed a St. Bernard Parish child last year when he played on a Slip and Slide and water went up his nose.

"Usually, if that organism makes it to the brain if you dive in the water and push the water up your nose to your brain," Lopez said.

Salty and brackish water holds similar dangers. Joseph Allen of Bryan County Georgia was on a fishing trip a few days ago when a flesh eating bacteria took over.

His brother-in-law Braxton Jeffers explains.

"He had to get out of his boat and he actually went in over his head. He actually had a sore on the side of his right arm about the size of a post-it stamp. When he got out of the water, he couldn't stand up," said Jeffers.

Dr. Lopez said if you have a wound on your skin and walk in brackish water or salt water where the organism is located, it can infect the skin and get into the blood stream. Doctors had to remove the majority of the flesh from Allen's arm to keep the disease from spreading. People who are immune compromised are more at risk.

"The most common reasons we see Vibrio Vulnificus infections is liver disease. If you have sclerosis, hepatitis, anything that can cause liver disease make you 80 times more likely to get infected with this organism in your blood stream."

He says the only way to prevent a brain eating amoeba is to stop water from going up your nose.

"Some people use nose pinchers," he said.

The warnings come too late for Holly Yust. The 9-year-old is one of only three to four cases a year in the country of the brain eating amoeba. Most cases are fatal.

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