State health officials issue warning over deadly flesh-eating bacteria lurking in seafood, water: ‘We need to be aware’

A rare, flesh-eating bacteria has been causing health problems for residents of Tampa Bay, Florida, with 25 confirmed cases and five deaths recorded in 2023.

According to local NBC affiliate WFLA, health officials warned local residents of the dangers of the bacteria in a report published by WESH and advised that people with weakened immune systems or chronic liver disease are among those most at risk.

What’s happening?

Florida health officials are sounding the alarm about a concerning form of bacteria that is causing serious health problems.

Vibrio vulnificus can cause infection after eating raw shellfish or by entering seawater with an open wound, according to Florida Health.

There were 74 total cases in 2022 and 17 deaths, so at least the numbers are on way down — the WESH report observed that many cases occurred in Lee County following the floodwaters from Hurricane Ian.

But cases are still significant enough to prompt a local health warning.

“Living in Florida, being around the marine environment, we need to be aware of what it is,” Dr. Eric Shamas, emergency medicine physician at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, told WFLA.

What are the symptoms of infection? 

According to WFLA, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, for those who have been infected by the bacteria via an open wound, infection of the skin is a clear sign.

Those with weakened immune systems will experience more concerning symptoms, such as fever, chills, decreased blood pressure, septic shock, and blistering skin lesions.

How can infection be avoided?

Shamas provided some advice to avoid infection, notably to stay out of the water if you have an open wound.

“If you suffer a cut while in the water, just wash it out very thoroughly with soap and water,” Shamas added, per WFLA. “Monitor your symptoms and follow up with your doctor if you have any questions.”

Florida Health warned that the bacteria thrives in warm, salty seawater, so steering clear if you have a cut or an underlying health condition is key.

More cases of bacterial infection were recorded following the impact of Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in September 2022 and led to flooding in Lee County. According to Agence France-Presse, as credited by a BBC report, many neighborhoods in the area were left “resembling lakes.”

With that in mind, taking action to limit the impacts of hurricanes, which can result in seawater making it to land, is vital to avoid the threat of infection.

While it’s impossible to stop a hurricane, the impact of such extreme weather can be reduced.

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), halting pollution that leads to global heating is “essential to reduce the risk of the strongest storms in the future.”

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