Flesh-eating bacteria are being found once again in the waters off Florida beaches. As temperatures rise in the Sunshine State, beachgoers are being warned of the dangers of the microorganisms.
Already in 2015, the state has logged eight reported cases and two deaths courtesy of Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, according to the Florida Department of Health. Even so, officials say a lot of misinformation encircles this microorganism that can sicken people and lead to fatal complications in some cases.
“Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that normally lives in warm seawater,” explained Mara Burger, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health. “Vibrio vulnificus infections are rare.”
Burger said people can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus in one of two ways – by eating contaminated raw shellfish and through exposure to contaminated water by swimming with open wounds.
“There have been eight confirmed cases of Vibrio vulnificus reported in Florida this year,” Burger confirmed. “There have been two deaths. Of the two, one patient had raw seafood exposure and one had multiple exposures prior to onset of symptoms.”
Burger stresses the bacteria doesn’t pose risks for normally healthy people who don’t “have open cuts or wounds” who swim in Florida’s salt or brackish waters.
“I want to stress to you that stories characterizing Vibrio vulnificus as ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ are misleading,” she said. “Vibrio vulnificus infections, if left untreated, can lead to a serious complication where the body’s affected soft tissues are damaged.”
It’s that soft tissue damage that gives rise to the flesh-eating moniker.
Most people who come into contact with the bacteria don’t show severe symptoms. Signs of exposure in normally healthy people include such symptoms as stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains on its website that consumption of contaminated shellfish or open-wound exposure among immunocompromised people, “particularly those with chronic liver disease can infect the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions.”
When open wounds come in contact with Vibrio vulnificus, the CDC says infections that arise “may lead to skin breakdown and ulceration.”
The county breakdown is as follows:
Brevard – 1
Duval – 1
Marion – 1
Pasco – 1
Santa Rosa – 1
St. Lucie – 1
There were a number of reported cases in the Tampa Bay area in 2014, including three in Hillsborough, four in Pinellas, one in Pasco and two in Sarasota County. One of the people infected in Sarasota died, the state reported. A total of 32 cases and seven deaths were recorded in 2014.