Action News reports that flesh-eating bacteria is back in the waters of Florida. Why is it back? We have had very hot weather. Consequently, health officials are warning residents and tourists of the bacteria and giving guidelines to people to avoid getting the potential deadly bacteria. The Vibrio vulnificus bacterium grows fastest in warm saltwater and it has already infected at least seven people and killed two this year in Florida. The Florida state health department said there have been 32 cases in the past 12 months. According to the state health department, a spike in cases occurs in May-October when water is the warmest. The confirmed cases of Vibrio in 2015 here in Florida are in the counties of Brevard, Broward, Duval, Marion, Pasco, Santa Rosa and St. Lucie. Florida Health Department spokeswomen Mara Burger stated that consuming or handling raw shellfish and swimming in warm saltwater areas can put people at risk. Also, people with open wounds can be exposed to the bacteria through direct contact with seawater. The bacterial infection can cause gastroenteritis, sepsis and can lead to amputations, ABC News reports.
Here are five things to know about flesh-eating bacteria in Florida:
1. It’s the fish, not the water – Most people who die from the bacteria contracted it from eating raw or under=cooked seafood, especially shellfish, like oysters, than from swimming in the Gulf. Swimming in salt water with an open wound increases your chances of getting it, but that shouldn’t keep the vast majority of people from getting in the water.
2. Now is the time to be vigilant – The season for Vibrio is during the warmer months, between May and October. The warm weather breeds the bacteria, and people are more likely to be swimming in the water and consuming seafood while on vacation or enjoying the scenery.
3. It’s extremely rare, and extremely deadly – In 2014 there were about 90 total infections of Vibrio in the U.S., including 35 deaths, according to the CDC. If you compare it to the flu, it kills between 3,300 and 49,000 people every year. Regardless, the bacteria is life-threatening. Vibrio kills one in three people who become infected.
4. It’s not really flesh-eating, it just looks that way – The bacteria that id officially classified as “flesh eating” belong to the streptococcus A family. Vibrio is called “flesh eating” because it invades the blood stream and causes skin lesions that are similar to strep A.
5. Your risk is pretty low, even if you’re sick – Most people who are truly vulnerable to Vibrio already have a weakened immune system, and suffer from other ailments, like chronic liver disease. There is no evidence of person-to person transmission. Just to be safe, though, health officials say you should clean any open wounds after you’ve gone swimming in the ocean.