If you live in Louisiana, you probably either fish or know someone who does. It is important to spread the word to family and friends about the dangers of fishing, kayaking or participating in other water-based activities with open wounds.

"In most cases, swimming, fishing and other water activities are safe as long as you take the proper precautions," said Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kliebert. "We don't want to scare people away from enjoying Louisiana's outdoors."

The main culprit to keep in mind when you have an open wound is Vibrio vulnificus, otherwise known as "flesh-eating bacteria," according to State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry.

"Vibrio vulnificus is more abundant in the summer. It normally lives in warm seawater or brackish water, and exposure is particularly harmful to individuals with chronic liver disease or weakened immune systems," said Guidry. "If you experience symptoms of infection after exposure to seawater or brackish water, seek medical care immediately."

Symptoms of infection include fever, chills, decreased blood pressure, blistering skin legions, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. The bacteria invades the bloodstream and may cause severe, potentially life-threatening illness. In addition to seawater, you can also contract Vibrio vulnificus by eating contaminated raw shellfish.

LDH offers the following tips for reducing your risk.

  • If you have open wounds, do not get in seawater, brackish water or other salty water.
  • Check children for open wounds before allowing them to get in the water.
  • If you experience chronic illness of the liver, kidney failure, other immune disorders, or have ever been through chemotherapy, used steroids for an extended period of time or use antacids, eat shellfish fully cooked.
  • Avoid cross contaminating raw shellfish and its juices with other food.
  • If you have an open wound, take care when handling shellfish.

There have been four cases of infection from Vibrio vulnificus so far this year. Louisiana typically reports between five and 15 cases each year.

This is the sixth article in a series of Summer Safety advisories the Department will send out this summer. Check back each Wednesday throughout the summer for more safety information.

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's Twitter account and Facebook.