Flesh-eating bacteria lies in Florida waters

Shelby Senesac, News Editor

It’s summer in Florida, which means the heat is progressively swelling and people will be spending more time in Florida’s seawater. However, those entering the water should be aware of the dangerous bacteria that can live beneath its surface.

Flesh-eating bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus typically lives in warm, brackish seawater and can be the cause of life-threatening wound infections. 

A Vibrio infection can occur by going in seawater with an open wound, even a small cut. The bacteria will enter the body through the open wound. Vibrio infection can also come from eating certain raw or undercooked seafood. Although Vibrio infections are “rare” according to Florida Health, the infection can happen to anyone.

“A scanning electron micrograph image of Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.” / Image credit: Janice Haney Carr (CDC) / Photo retrieved from Live Science

According to the CDC, “Many people with Vibrio vulnificus [wound] infection require intensive care or limb amputations, and about 1 in 5 people with this infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill.”

There have been a number of deadly cases of Vibrio infection in Florida over the past few years.

The chart below shows the number of cases in Florida since 2008 and was last updated in October 2020.

Chart credit: Florida Department of Health / Chart received from WTSP

The reason it’s referred to as a “flesh-eating” bacteria is that in certain circumstances, the bacterial infection will worsen and turn into necrotizing fasciitis. Necrotizing fasciitis is very serious and spreads quickly. The affected area will actually look like the flesh is decaying – skin is red, swollen, blistered, discolored, etc.

A few ways to prevent a Vibrio infection is to never go in the water with an open wound or broken skin (this includes a recent surgery, piercing, or tattoo), don’t eat raw oysters or other shellfish, cook shellfish thoroughly, and always wash your hands after handling raw shellfish.

To learn more about Vibrio vulnificus, click here.


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