It sounds like something out of a horror movie, but it’s all too real. Real enough for Florida officials to send out a warning to all that the flesh-eating bacterium Vibrio vulnificus is alive and well in the warm Florida waters. Officials are warning those who plan to swim in Florida waters that they should take precautions. The bacterium has infected 11 people so far this year in Florida, and it has killed 2 people.
A relative of the bacterium which causes Cholera, Vibrio vulnificus can infect people in two ways. It an be ingested either by swallowing water containing the bacterium or through infected seafood. In this case, it can cause severe stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. That’s actually the better of the two ways to get infected. The second, and more dangerous, way it infects is by getting into the open wounds such as cuts or scrapes of those swimming in waters where it’s present. In this case, it gets the moniker of “flesh-eating” by breaking down the skin in the infected areas.
While most cases of Vibrio vulnificus can be treated with antibiotics, it can get a lot worse in a minority of severe infections. In some cases amputations are required, and it can even cause death in those with weakened immune systems unable to fight off the bacterium.
With the warmer water of summer, Vibrio vulnificus is back, so Florida officials are reminding those who love to play in the sea to avoid doing so if they have any open wounds. In additions, they warn people to be careful and take appropriate actions such as wearing protective clothing when handling with raw shellfish. For those cooking, it’s recommended that the shellfish be thoroughly cooked (no raw oysters).
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following precautions should be taken to avoid infections:
- If you have any open wounds, avoid brackish water and warm saltwater, and don’t handle raw shellfish.
- Don’t handle raw shellfish directly. Instead, wear protective clothing such as gloves when handling raw shellfish.
- Make sure to thoroughly cook shellfish.
- Thoroughly clean surfaces that come in contact with shellfish to prevent cross-food contamination from the juices of raw seafood.
- Promptly eat shellfish once cooked, and immediately refrigerate any leftovers.
(Photo courtesy of Fovea Centralis)