Should You Worry About Flesh-Eating Bacteria?


This afternoon brings us news of Aimee Copeland, a grad student from Georgia who is battling a life-threatening flesh-eating bacteria infection after getting a deep cut in a river. Copeland has already had one leg amputated to stop the disease’s spread. These infections are very rare — there are only about 750 cases per year, the Associated Press reports. Still, they tend to be so severe and sound so scary that you might start to wonder: Should I worry about flesh-eating bacteria?

Short answer: not really.

Obviously, it’s awful that Copeland and her family are going through this, and we’re not trying to downplay the severity of their struggle.

But the thing is — and the AP does a good job of emphasizing this — these infections almost never happen. In Copeland’s case, the species in question — Aeromonas hydrophila — has only affected a handful of people over the past few decades if that.

And the most common examples of flesh-eating bacteria, which are caused by strep, tend not to be fatal — 4/5 people survive these infections.

Also, these bacteria don’t typically just hang in the air around waiting to infect people. The Aeromonas comes from warm, brackish water — but it will only be able to infect you if you get a deep wound. So if you get hurt when you’re splashing around in a river or pond, go to the doctor immediately and get solid antibiotics.

Some other info to know about Aeromonas? The FDA says that this strain might be the common bug causing gastroenteritis, though the jury is still out on whether it’s certainly the culprit.

What’s most threatened by the germ, then? Fish and amphibians. This bug causes tail and fin rot and internal bleeding in aquatic life.