What To Know About the ‘Flesh-Eating Bacteria’ That Killed a Man in Maryland


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Headlines this week about a man who died after contracting a “flesh-eating bacteria” in Ocean City, Maryland, may have you spooked to go near the water, or even near seafood. Michael Funk, 67, began to feel ill within hours of cleaning out crab pots at his beach home, and died just four days later.

Doctors say that a cut on Funk’s leg was exposed to a strand of Vibrio bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus, which lives in warm, coastal waters like Ocean City’s Assawoman Bay. He was diagnosed at the hospital with the infection caused by Vibrio, called vibriosis, and had infected skin removed from around the wound. But the bacteria had already entered his bloodstream. Despite having his leg amputated, Funk did not survive.

His wife told local newspaper The Daily Times that the experience was “like something out of a horror movie,” expressing concern that there had been no warning from Ocean City officials about the bacteria or their risks. (The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is investigating the incident. A public advisory has not been issued, although information about Vibrio can be found on the official state website.)

While tourist season on the Maryland coast is over, there are still plenty of places in the United States where people swim, boat, and catch seafood year-round. So Health spoke with Gabby Barbarite, PhD, a Vibrio researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, to find out how much of a risk these bacteria pose to the average person. Here’s what you should know, and how to keep yourself safe.

Vibrio bacteria aren't new

There are about 12 Vibrio species that make people sick, and they've been around for many years. This is likely not the first time you’ve read about them in the news, either. In Florida, at least two people died last year (and at least seven died in 2014) as a result of vibriosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vibriosis causes an estimated 100 deaths in the U.S. each year. It also causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses—52,000 of which are from eating contaminated seafood like raw oysters.

Vibrio bacteria live in coastal bodies of salt water or brackish water. They’re found year-round in warm climates like Florida; further north, their levels peak in late summer and early fall, when water is warmest.

“People often ask why we don’t just get rid of the bacteria,” says Barbarite, “but in reality, we’re never going to get rid of it all. What we can do is teach people how they can safely handle seafood and safely spend time in the water.”

RELATED: 12 Germs That Cause Food Poisoning

In most cases, it’s not as scary as it sounds

Vibrio has been dubbed a type of flesh-eating bacteria, thanks to the blistering skin lesions that can spread quickly across the body if an infection isn’t treated. But Barbarite says that term isn’t quite right.

“The words flesh-eating might make you think that if you touch it, it will degrade your skin on contact, and that’s not true,” she says. “You have to have a pre-existing cut—or you have to eat raw, contaminated seafood or chug a whole lot of contaminated water—for it to get into your bloodstream; it can’t break down healthy, intact skin.”

Men over 50 are at higher risk

Almost every case of serious illness or fatality from vibriosis occurs in men over 50, says Barbarite, and most are people with compromised immune systems because of a condition like liver disease, heart disease, or diabetes. (Healthy immune systems are usually able to fight off infections before they become life-threatening. News reports have not identified whether Funk had any pre-existing health conditions.)

“Studies have shown that estrogen can actually combat infections, so that’s why we see it more in males than in females,” says Barbarite. Men also tend to have higher levels of iron, she adds, which the bacteria need to thrive.

Contact with contaminated fish and shellfish is also a risk factor, and crabs are known to carry Vibrio bacteria on their shells. “If that bacteria gets into a cut, it can get into your bloodstream and progress very rapidly,” says Barbarite. “Within 12 hours it could be fatal.”

RELATED: What You Really Need to Know About Brain-Eating Amoebas

Prompt attention is vital

Healthy people don’t need to avoid the water or stay away from seafood, says Barbarite. Still, it's important to keep open wounds away from seawater and raw seafood. If you do get cut in or around a marine environment, wash the area thoroughly, and as soon as possible, with soap and clean water.

“People need to know that if they get cut, to clean it out right away and to seek medical attention within four to five hours if they see redness or swelling,” says Barbarite. Fever and nausea are also red flags that the vibriosis infection has spread to the bloodstream. If caught early enough, treatment with antibiotics can be life-saving.

Climate change may mean more infections

In August, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that warmer ocean temperatures may be fueling the growth of dangerous bacteria—including Vibrio—in northern seas. This could explain an increase in the number of people in Europe (where the study was conducted) getting sick from swimming or eating tainted seafood, say the study authors, and it could make infections more likely in other warm climates as well.  

Health and fitness with Alexa Towersey


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We chat to September cover model, Alexa Towersey about all things fitness, health, career and self-love. Check out the exclusive cover story interview below!



I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for over 15 years. I’ve played pretty much every sport known to man including American football, boxing, soccer, skiing and horse-riding. I completed a Bachelor of Science in biology and psychology and went on to do a post-graduate diploma in sports management and kinesiology, and then I interned with an All Blacks-endorsed Pilates studio.


When I was 27 I moved to Hong Kong, where I was the senior strength and conditioning coach at a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym. I decided to get into half-Ironman events and I took two years to qualify for the world champs. Living in Asia gave me the opportunity to travel and learn; I spent five years commuting between HK and the United States, learning from the legendary Gym Jones (the outfit responsible for training the cast and crew for the movies 300, The Immortals, Repo Men and Superman) and internationally recognised strength coach Charles Poliquin.


When I was younger, I was bullied for being too skinny.  My nickname at school was Alexa Anorexia. I started going to the gym when I was 15 on a mission to create muscles and it was the first place I ever truly felt in control of my body and my mind. I want to be able to educate, empower and instil that passion in everyone I work with.


Both my parents passed away from lifestyle-related diseases – my mum from lung cancer and my dad from alcoholism.  This led to me giving up alcohol six years ago and is the reason I remain such a passionate advocate of living a healthy lifestyle.


For years, I was limited by own lack of self-belief. It wasn’t until I moved to Australia two years ago and immersed myself in a community of likeminded people that I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I truly believe that if you’re driven by passion and positivity rather than profit, then success is organic.  


I think it’s a really exciting time to be in the industry as the landscape is definitely changing for the better. Women seem to be less focused on wanting to lose weight and be a size zero and more excited about getting stronger, feeling better in their own skin and wanting to develop shape.  


I love celebrating the strength of the female form. For me, as both a trainer and a female, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a woman become empowered in the gym and watching how this translates into the rest of her life. 


I have a very holistic approach with both myself and my clients. I’m a big advocate for learning to listen to your body and trusting your gut instincts. Your body is a very clever instrument and it will tell you in no uncertain terms what it likes and dislikes.


I’m rolling out my Creating Curves workshops internationally, including Kuwait, the US and New Zealand. I’ve almost finished my second e-book program with Renae Ayris (former Miss Universe Australia). I’ve also recently started public speaking on behalf of the charity Livin, which is an organisation aimed at educating people about mental health issues and suicide prevention. I love being able to be involved in such an incredible and relevant cause. Twenty-sixteen is shaping up to be a huge year, so watch this space!


Alexatowersey.com // @actionalexa

Photography: Emily Abay // @emilyabay_photographer

Hair & Make-up Artist: Mae Taylor // @maetaylor_makeupartist

Dressed in: PE Nation // @p.e.nation courtesy of StyleRunner // @stylerunner





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Right-Handedness Might Go Back Almost 2 Million Years


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THURSDAY, Oct. 20, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Human’s preference for using the right hand may have developed earlier than thought, a new study suggests.

Striations on teeth in a 1.8-million-year-old Homo habilis jaw found in Tanzania offer the earliest fossil evidence of right-handedness, according to researchers.

The striations on the lip side of the upper front teeth mostly veer from left down to right, suggesting they were made when a stone tool held in the right hand was used to cut food held in the mouth while pulling with the left hand.

Those marks suggest that this Homo habilis was right-handed and is the first potential evidence of right-hand dominance in pre-Neanderthal humans, according to the study. It was published online Oct. 20 in the Journal of Human Evolution.

“We think that tells us something further about lateralization of the brain,” said study author David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Kansas.

“We already know that Homo habilis had brain lateralization and was more like us than like apes. This extends it to handedness, which is key,” he said in a university news release.

“Handedness and language are controlled by different genetic systems, but there is a weak relationship between the two because both functions originate on the left side of the brain,” Frayer said.

“One specimen does not make an incontrovertible case, but as more research is done and more discoveries are made, we predict that right-handedness, cortical [outer brain] reorganization and language capacity will be shown to be important components in the origin of our genus,” he said.

Ninety percent of people are right-handed, while the ratio is closer to 50-50 in apes.

More information

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has more on human evolution.

Mediterranean Diet, Caffeine May Be Good for Your Eyes


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THURSDAY, Oct. 20, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Eating a Mediterranean diet and consuming caffeine may lower your chances of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness, according to a new study.

Previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet—high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, healthy fats and fish—benefits the heart and lowers cancer risk. But there has been little research on whether it helps protect against eye diseases such as AMD, the researchers noted.

Using questionnaires, the researchers assessed the diets of 883 people, aged 55 and older, in Portugal. Of those, 449 had early stage AMD and 434 did not have the eye disease.

Closely following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of AMD, and eating lots of fruit was especially beneficial.

The researchers also found that people who consumed high levels of caffeine seemed to have a lower risk of AMD. Among those who consumed high levels of caffeine (about 78 milligrams a day, or the equivalent of one shot of espresso) 54 percent did not have AMD and 45 percent had the eye disease.

The researchers said they looked at caffeine consumption because it’s an antioxidant known to protect against other health problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

However, the study did not prove that consuming coffee and following a Mediterranean diet caused the risk of AMD to drop.

The findings were to be presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), in Chicago.

“This research adds to the evidence that a healthy, fruit-rich diet is important to health, including helping to protect against macular degeneration,” lead author Dr. Rufino Silva, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Coimbra, in Portugal, said in an AAO news release.

“We also think this work is a stepping stone towards effective preventive medicine in AMD,” Silva added.

Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more on age-related macular degeneration.

7 Health Truths We Wish We Knew in Our 20s


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Your 20s aren’t exactly a breeze. Most quarter-lifers are just starting to live on their own, figure out a career path, and look for a life partner, all at the same time. As a result, good-for-you habits don't always feel like a top priority—but some really do matter. That’s why we tapped our editors over 30 to share the health truths they wish they’d known in their younger years. Read on if you still think instant ramen is a well-balanced meal…

RELATED: How to Survive a Quarter-Life Crisis and Find Your True Purpose

Make friends with fat

"Fat is not the enemy. It's an essential nutrient, important for so many major functions in the body, and essential for brain health. Eat more fat!" —Beth Lipton, food director 

Listen to your body

"I wish I had known to take better care of my joints and not to ignore the signs something was wrong. I never thought about the importance of mobility exercises, stretching, foam rolling, or recovery, because I could easily go running or do CrossFit classes without feeling much pain or discomfort. It never occurred to me that maybe someday I wouldn’t be so invincible. Then, at the ripe old age of 28, everything started to hurt all the time—especially my right hip. To make a long story short, I now have permanent damage to that joint because I had ignored a lot of warning signs that I was injured. These days, I am much more diligent about foam rolling before and after every workout, warming up and cooling down properly, and generally just treating my body in a way that will ensure I’ll be able to stay active and fit for the rest of my life." —Christine Mattheis, deputy editor 

Lather up 

"Wear sunscreen every day. Seriously, every day. I apply SPF on my face and neck and whatever’s left over, I put on the back of my hands. Also, self tanner is your bff." —Tomoko Takeda, acting beauty director

RELATED: What You Can Do in Your 20s and 30s to Prevent Physical Decline in Your 50s and 60s

Eat right

"One big thing I have learned since my 20s concerns nutrition/diet and basic eating sense. I had very little nutritional literacy in my 20s, very little idea about what made up a balanced, healthy diet, and very little consciousness about how food choices affected energy levels, mindset, and a general sense of well being. I might get a bad night's sleep, then eat a Big Mac or a giant Italian hoagie for lunch the next day, each loaded with refined carbs, and then be mystified about why I would hit a carb crash and slip into a food coma for the next two hours. It wasn’t until years later (and in part by starting to work at Health!) that I picked up some basics about nutrition, cooking, creating balanced meals that gave me energy. Now my number one prerogative when I eat lunch is what will keep me feeling as energized and alert as possible, and I know the ingredients to put into the meal that will help me do this." —Michael Gollust, research editor

Strengthen, strengthen, strengthen

"I wish I had done more strength training in my 20s! I was all cardio, all the time, not realizing that you can strengthen your bones up to age 30, but after that it tends to decline. You might say I wished I stashed more in my 'bone bank' when I was younger. It's not impossible to 'save up' after age 30, but it's harder." —Theresa Tamkins, editor-in-chief, Health.com

Just do you

"Stick to what feels right for you, regardless of what a friend or a significant other is doing. At times I gave into eating or drinking in ways that didn't feel right for me because I didn't want to be different from friends, or to go along with what my partner wanted to do. You know, that social eating/drinking pressure. As I got older I realized that wasn't necessary. I can be with a friend and have a water during happy hour if I don't feel like drinking, or say no if my hubby wants to split an order of fries. It's not at all about depriving myself (in fact, looking back I felt like I was depriving myself of feeling good when I gave in); it's about knowing and honoring what feels right for you in that moment. Splurging sometimes is great, even important, but do so on your own terms." —Cynthia Sass, contributing nutrition editor

Love yourself

"This isn’t really a health truth, but more a life truth: I wish every woman in her 20s knew how beautiful she was! I look at pictures of myself in my 20s, when I often felt gawky and unsure, and wish I’d realized that I was actually so lovely—not because I think I’m such hot stuff, but because there’s this vibrant energy that you have when you’re that age that’s really wonderful and attractive. Everyone has it! Women in your 20s, own it!" —Jeannie Kim, executive deputy editor