Reports say a rare flesh-eating bacteria has been found in the waters of the Gulf Coast. This is a potential threat to beachgoers this summer season. Vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria, has been confirmed in two deaths in Florida this year.
The CDC explains Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria strain that thrives in warm ocean water. It is categorized as halophilic because it requires salt. The report states that this rare disease, while also underreported, had 900 confirmed cases between 1988 and 2006. Most of these cases were reported in Gulf Coast states. An article from American Family Physician confirms that the bacteria is found in waters warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit and is not associated with pollution in any way.
Furthermore, the CDC states that ingestion of Vibrio vulnificus can lead to symptoms characteristic of a stomach virus, such as diarrhea and vomiting. However, if a person already has liver problems, ingestion can lead to life-threatening complications. The CDC explains how this can lead to an infection of the bloodstream that can cause blistering skin lesions and leads to death in 50 percent of cases.
American Family Physician clarifies those most at risk are people with a compromised liver, typically from heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages, and eating raw oysters. They strongly advise people to thoroughly cook their oysters before consuming them. Their guidelines for safe cooking include boiling shucked oysters for at least three minutes or by frying them to a temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Moreover, the CDC communicates the other way to contract a disease from Vibrio vulnificus is by coming into contact with the bacteria while having an open wound. They explain that an infection of this nature can lead to skin breakdown and ulceration, hence the term “flesh-eating disease.” Additionally, they warn that people with compromised immune systems are at an increased risk for infection of the bloodstream and possibly death.
While officials confirm that infection from Vibrio vulnificus is rare, there has been an increased number of cases reported in the news within the last two years. Tech Times notes in 2014 the state of Florida had 32 incidents of infection with seven of these resulting in death. According to International Business Times Vibrio vulnificus has already infected seven people in Florida this year, and two have died as a result.
UPI has stated that of the two deaths in Florida, one was the result of eating raw seafood. They also note that these deaths occurred in Marion and Brevard counties. Marion is a central county and Brevard is an east coast county which verifies that the incidents are not restricted to the Gulf Coast region.
Treatment is available for a Vibrio vulnificus infection, but the CDC warns action must be taken immediately to prevent death. They explain that the antibiotic Doxycycline and a cephalosporin are usually the first line of treatment for cases in which there was ingestion. For instances where an open wound has been affected, the CDC recommends the wound be tended to aggressively, usually by removing the dead tissue surrounding the area. They caution if not treated promptly these types of infection can result in amputation to prevent further spreading.
The CDC reiterates that most cases occur near the Gulf Coast and are seasonal, happening between the months of May and October. They note a major problem in prevention is most people prefer to eat their oysters raw and suggest increased education on the hazards of consuming under-cooked shellfish. They also recommend wearing gloves as another line of defense when handling raw seafood.
With these reoccurring incidents reported in the last two years most officials still claim that cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections are rare. However, this year Vibrio vulnificus, the flesh-eating bacteria, has made its presence known off the Florida coast with two deaths already.
By Megan Hellmann
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- Vibrio vulnifius
American Family Physician- Vibrio vulnificus Infection: Diagnosis and Treatment
Tech Times-Flesh-Eating Bacteria Vibrio vulnificus Thrive in Florida Waters: What to Know and How to Stay Safe
UPI-Health Officials: Rare Sea Bacteria Kills 2 in Florida
International Business Times- Vibrio vulnificus: Rare Bacteria in Florida Seawater has Infected Seven, Killed 2 this Year
Feature Photo Courtesy of MartialArtsNomad.com’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License
Photo Courtesy of Larry Hoffman’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License