By Rose Klein
Greene Publishing, Inc.
New warnings were issued Monday by the Florida Department of Health surrounding a flesh-eating bacteria found in the ocean that has already killed several people in Florida. The bacterium is called Vibrio vulnificus and thrives in warm saltwater. The Department of Health reports 32 have contracted the bacteria and 10 have died from the strain. Last year, 41 people were infected and 11 died.
Below is the statement from the Florida Department of Health:
A recent, tragic death that occurred in Flagler County has brought forth concerns of the bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium that normally lives in warm seawater.
Vibrio vulnificus can cause disease in those who eat contaminated seafood or have an open wound that is exposed to warm seawater containing the bacteria. Ingestion of Vibrio vulnificus can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Vibrio vulnificus can also cause an infection of the skin when open wounds are exposed to warm seawater; these infections may lead to skin breakdown and ulcers.
Persons who have weakened immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease, are at risk for Vibrio vulnificus infection when they eat raw shellfish, particularly oysters in that oysters filter the bacteria from the water. People with these pre-existing medical conditions are 80 times more likely to develop Vibrio vulnificus blood infections than healthy people.
Infection can happen when the bacterium invades the bloodstream, causing a severe, life-threatening illness with symptoms such as fever, chills, decreased blood pressure and blistering skin lesions. People who have contracted the disease describe it as a feeling of being on fire. These bloodstream infections are fatal about 50 percent of the time and can also require amputation for individuals to recover.
This rare illness can be contracted by exposure to the bacterium after ingesting seawater or shellfish, contact with marine wildlife that has been exposed to the bacterium or contamination of an open wound after exposure to warm saltwater that contains the bacterium.
If exposed by contamination of an open wound, symptoms of illness include swelling, redness and pain at the site of the wound. Illness typically begins within one to three days of exposure, but can begin as late as seven days after exposure. The redness and swelling can progress to affect the whole body and can then cause the life-threatening illness and symptoms described above.
Tips for preventing Vibrio vulnificus infections:
Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water.
If a cut or scrape is incurred while swimming in marine waters, wash thoroughly with soap and fresh, clean water as soon as possible and monitor the wound.
Do not eat raw oysters or other raw shellfish.
Cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly.
For shellfish in the shell, either boil until the shells open and continue boiling for five more minutes or steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for nine more minutes. Do not eat those shellfish that do no open during cooking. Boil shucked oysters at least three minutes or fry them in oil at least 10 minutes at 375 degrees.
Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.
Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
Wear protective clothing (gloves) when handling raw shellfish.
For more information on Vibrio vulnificus, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov.