The Flesh-Eating Bacteria Haunting Florida This Summer
The Florida Health Department issued new warnings to beach-goers this week, but not because of sharks or riptides. Nope — it's even worse. A flesh-eating bacteria, Vibro vulnificus, has killed 3 people in Florida this year, while 12 cases have been reported. The deadly bacteria thrives in warm saltwater and can be contracted through open wounds or even by eating raw oysters, according to the Florida Department of Health. Basically, your upcoming Florida vacation is ruined.
The latest victim of Vibro vulnificus died in Sarasota County, county health officials confirmed on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the county's health department told Fox 13 that the county has seen two cases of the flesh-eating bacteria so far this summer, though only one was fatal. The victim, whose name was not released to the media, was middle-aged and reportedly had chronic health problems. Nearby Hillsborough County has also reported one case of the flesh-eating bacteria this summer.
So does the presence of a potentially fatal bacteria mean all Florida beach bums should stay out of the water? Not necessarily. The Florida Department of Health advised all beach-goers to take extra precaution, including washing off after swimming in the water. However, people who are at a higher risk of contracting the bacteria should avoid the water at all costs.
"Persons who have wounds, cuts or scratches and wade in estuarine areas or seawater where the bacteria might be present can become ill," the Florida Department of Health said in a statement. The health department added that people who have liver disease, such as Hepatitis C, are most at risk when consuming raw oysters and other uncooked seafood. Individuals with cancer, diabetes or a weakened immune system should also avoid eating oysters this summer.
The Florida Department of Health said that symptoms of the bacteria include "swelling, pain and redness at the wound site." Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and the "formation of blistering skin lesions" are also possible symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vibrio vulnificus is fatal 50 percent of the time when it infects an individual's bloodstream.
Although flesh-eating bacteria is dangerous and terrifying, it's not that uncommon along Florida's Gulf Coast. According to the state's health department, there were 41 reported cases of the bacteria and 11 deaths in 2013. The CDC adds that there were 900 cases of the bacteria between 1998 and 2006 in the Gulf Coast states, but warns that the illness is usually underreported.
Local media reports claim cases of the flesh-eating bacteria have been reported this summer in the neighboring states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. So, if you're heading down to the Gulf this month, swim — and eat oysters — at your own risk.
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