If you’ve got plans to hit the Florida beaches this summer, you may want to consider other options. A rare bacteria, often called the “flesh-eating” bacteria has already killed two people and infected seven others this year.
While the Vibrio vulnificus virus is usually contracted by eating raw seafood, it has been infecting people through open sores and wounds. Florida Health Department spokeswoman Mara Burger said in a statement, “Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater.” That means, if you scratched that mosquito bite and think going into the salty sea water will help it heal faster, you might instead be letting in a very unwelcome viral visitor.
Ingesting the virus can cause symptoms akin to bad food poisoning — vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. However, if it gets in through an open wound on your skin, you could be in for much scarier things, like infections, ulcers and ultimately your skin breaking down — hence the nickname “flesh-eating.”
Yes, I know, this sounds terrifying, but if you’ve got a healthy immune system, you shouldn’t worry too much. Most people only experience mild symptoms when it comes to the Vibrio vulnificus virus, but if you’ve got a compromised immune system for any reason, you really should steer clear of the Florida waters. This bacteria once in the bloodstream can cause fever, chills, blistering skin lesions, septic shock and even death. The elderly and newborns are at greater risk for infection and are advised to use extreme caution on beach visits.
However, the bacteria is only really a threat in the warmer months — with over 85 percent of infections occurring between May and October. Also, there were 32 cases reported in Florida last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so it’s not like it’s a huge threat. That being said, there have already been nine cases this year and it’s only the second week of June, so the threat may be increasing.
Experts say the best way to avoid getting infected is to make sure you have no fresh cuts or scrapes before entering the water (that means double and triple check your kids). Also, you may want to wear protective water shoes if you plan on exploring rockier underwater terrain.
If you do start experiencing symptoms of this bacterial infection, don’t panic. Antibiotics are usually effective in treating it. However, in severe cases, or cases that went untreated by antibiotics, amputation of the infected extremity was necessary.
As far as getting the infection via ingesting shellfish is concerned, as long as the shellfish is cooked thoroughly, you should be fine. Eating uncooked shellfish like oysters and clams, however, is not advised, at least while you’re in Florida.