At least eight people in Florida have died this year so far as a result of an infection caused by the bacteria species Vibrio vulnificus, according to health officials. This is the most deaths reported in the state since 2018, when nine people died of the infection.
As of early September, the Florida Department of Health has reported 20 cases of the infection. Florida has witnessed 125 deaths caused by V. vulnificus since 2008, the latest was confirmed in Leon County on Friday, according to Outbreak News Today.
The waterborne bacteria species is able to cause necrotizing fasciitis, a rapidly spreading but thankfully rare “flesh-eating” infection that results in the death of tissues. Necrotizing fasciitis can then trigger sepsis – the immune system’s potentially fatal response to infection, which can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
V. vulnificus is a relative of cholera – both are members of the Vibrio genus, known to cause gastrointestinal infections often associated with undercooked seafood. V. vulnificus is naturally found in warm marine waters and can also lead to a life-threatening infection if it comes into contact with open wounds. Wound infections caused by the bacteria are fatal in one in five people, and should the infection spread to the bloodstream, fatality jumps to around 50 percent, according to Florida Health.
The CDC recommends avoiding saltwater or brackish water if you have a wound, for example from recent surgery, piercing, or tattoo. Alternatively, they suggest covering wounds with a waterproof bandage if contact with potentially contaminated water is inevitable. Covering of wounds is also advised if you are handling raw or undercooked seafood and its juices. If contact occurs, wounds should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
Symptoms to look out for include fever, chills, dangerously low blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions. Other signs of wound infection are redness, pain, swelling, warmth, discoloration, and discharge.