Florida authorities sound the alarm about flesh-eating bacteria: what you need to know - ForumDaily
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Florida authorities sound the alarm about flesh-eating bacteria: what you need to know

The flesh-eating bacterium, or Vibrio vulnificus, is a bacterium that typically lives in warm seawater. And although statistically they are quite rare, every year people become infected with these very deadly bacteria. Florida Department of Health warns residents about the danger and tells how to protect themselves.

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Over the past few years, cases of infection with flesh-eating bacteria have become more frequent. If in 2008 there were 16 of them, of which 6 deaths, then in 2013 there were already 41 cases and 12 deaths. Since 2019, the figure has not fallen below 30: 2020 - 36 cases (7 deaths), in 2021 - 34 (10 deaths), 2022 became a record due to Hurricane Ian - 74 cases (17 deaths) and in In 2023 there are already 43 cases and 10 deaths.

How does Vibrio vulnificus become infected?

People can become infected with Vibrio vulnificus by eating raw shellfish, particularly oysters. This bacterium is often isolated from oysters and other shellfish in warm coastal waters during the summer months. Because it naturally lives in warm sea waters, people with open wounds can become infected with Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of Vibrio vulnificus.

On the subject: The number of carnivorous bacteria has increased in the waters of the United States: contact with them is deadly

How can Vibrio vulnificus infection be diagnosed?

Vibrio vulnificus infection is diagnosed by stool, wound, or blood cultures. Notifying the laboratory that this infection is suspected helps improve diagnostic efficiency because it requires the use of a special growth medium. Clinicians should be highly suspicious of this organism if patients present with stomach illness, fever, or shock after eating raw seafood, especially oysters, or with a wound infection after exposure to seawater.

What symptoms does Vibrio vulnificus cause?

Vibrio vulnificus can cause illness in those who eat contaminated seafood or have an open wound exposed to warm seawater containing the bacteria.

Ingestion of Vibrio vulnificus causes vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. In healthy people, the disease is usually mild, but the infection poses a serious threat to people with weakened immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease.

The bacteria can enter the bloodstream causing severe and life-threatening illness with symptoms such as fever, chills, low blood pressure (septic shock) and blistering of the skin.

A recent study found that people with pre-existing conditions are 80 times more likely to develop Vibrio vulnificus infection in the bloodstream than healthy people. Wound infections can also pose serious problems for people with weakened immune systems. The wound may not heal well and will require surgery. Sometimes doctors even resort to amputation to recover.

How common is Vibrio vulnificus infection?

Vibrio vulnificus is a rare but under-reported cause of the disease. Between 1988 and 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 900 cases of Vibrio vulnificus from the Gulf Coast states, where most cases occur. Before 2007, there was no national surveillance system for Vibrio vulnificus, but the CDC worked with Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to track the number of cases in the Gulf Coast region. In 2007, infections caused by Vibrio vulnificus and other species began to be reported nationally.

Tips for preventing Vibrio vulnificus infection:
  • do not eat raw oysters and other raw shellfish;
  • thoroughly boil shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels);
  • shellfish in the shell should be: a) boiled until the shells open, then cook for another 5 minutes; b) steam until the shells open and continue cooking for another 9 minutes. Do not eat shellfish that have not opened during cooking;
  • Boil the oysters for at least 3 minutes or fry them in oil for at least 10 minutes at 375°F (190 Celsius);
  • Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other food products with raw seafood and seafood juices;
  • eat shellfish immediately after cooking;
  • do not allow warm salty or brackish water to come into contact with open wounds or damaged skin, as well as raw shellfish caught in such bodies of water;
  • Wear protective clothing (such as gloves) when handling raw shellfish.

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How is Vibrio vulnificus infection treated?

If a Vibrio vulnificus infection is suspected, treatment should be started immediately as antibiotics increase the chances of survival. It is necessary to pay close attention to the wound site; For patients with wound infection, amputation of the infected limb is sometimes required.

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