Warnings About Flesh-Eating Ocean Bacteria Issued by Florida Health Officials
The bacteria, known as vibrio vulnificus, has caused 32 people to be hospitalized and killed ten in Florida. That was through a period of years, not all at once. Since 2013, there have been five cases of vibrio and two deaths in Broward County.
Still, it's enough of a risk that the Florida Department of Health issued new warnings on Monday. So if you plan on heading out to the beach for a swim, be aware that a flesh-eating bacteria is floating around out there.
Here's what you need to know about vibrio.
First of all, the bacterium normally lives in warm seawater and is part of a group of vibrios that are called "halophilic" because they require salt. And if there are two things Florida waters have plenty of, it's warmth and salt.
"A person can contract vibrio by eating tainted raw shellfish and oysters," Florida Department of Health Deputy Press Secretary Pamela Crane tells New Times. "And people who swim in seawater [and] have open wounds are also vulnerable to the bacteria."
Vibrio can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, but is especially dangerous for people with weak immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease. Vibrio can get into the bloodstream and cause life-threatening illnesses. Symptoms include fever, chills, a drop in blood pressure, and skin lesions.
According to the Florida Department of Health, those who get the bacteria into their bloodstreams die about 50 percent of the time. People with weaker immune systems were 80 times more likely to develop the infection in the bloodstream than healthy people, according to health officials.
Reports of people contracting the vibrio bacteria are rare, however. That may be because it's gone largely unnoticed over the years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 900 infections have been reported from the Gulf Coast states between 1988 and 2006. Prior to 2007, there really was no way of monitoring it.
So basically, if you have a weak immune system or an open wound, it's best to avoid the water for now. If you do go swimming, make sure to wash off thoroughly afterward.
"It's rare, but we wanted to get the warning out there to make sure people are educated about it," Crane says.
The best way of avoidance, however, is to stay away from raw oysters and other shellfish. If you absolutely, positively must eat the stuff, make sure it's cooked thoroughly. Be sure to boil shucked oysters for at least three minutes, or fry them in oil for at least ten minutes at 375°F.
The main thing is that this is a normal occurrence in our waters. Chances are, you've already been swimming in vibrio-infected waters and are doing just fine. What health officials want to stress is that people with weak immune systems should take extra precautions.
Nobody needs a bad case of the runs from all orifices after a nice day out at the beach.
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