It’s not only brain-eating amoebas swimmers in warm waters have to worry about: Health officials in Florida are warning swimmers in the Gulf Coast about a flesh-eating bacteria in that ocean that so far has killed 10 people and hospitalized 32.
Vibrio vulnificus is related to the bacterium that causes Cholera and usually lives in warm saltwater, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is also found in warm water oysters (which is why you eat fried oysters in New Orleans and not the kind prepared raw, which are from colder waters). It’s called flesh-eating due to the blisters or lesions which can appear if an infected wound is left to fester.
Health officials are warning people not to go swimming or enter the water if they have open wounds or a weakened immune system. It can also make you sick if you eat undercooked or raw food, but it’s especially harmful and potentially lethal when it gets in the bloodstream.
“Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater,” the Florida Department of Health said in a statement, according to WFTS.com in Tampa Bay.
The Department says anyone who does jump into the ocean should also wash off before going home.
“It’s definitely something to take serious, but there are a number of other bacteria, that you could run into,” said Tim O’Connor, a spokesperson for the Department says, adding that the state is closing monitoring the Vibrio bacteria.
Last year 41 people were infected and 11 died in Florida, which is in addition to several cases reported by Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, the Department reports.
Symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus can include gastrointestinal issues, fever, nausea and/or vomiting, chills or shock, while wounds infected with it may be painful, swollen, and red, according to health officials.
Anyone who has been swimming in warm saltwater or has consumed raw or undercooked shellfish should contact their physician immediately.