When Hurricane Ian blasted Florida with Category 4 intensity, it brought with it gale force winds and massive flooding, but no one expected a flesh-eating virus to be a part of its deadly arsenal.
According to the CDC,Vibrio vulnificus can cause life-threatening wound infections. Many people with Vibrio vulnificus infection require intensive care or limb amputations, and about 1 in 5 people with this infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill.
Some Vibrio vulnificus infections lead to necrotizing fasciitis, a severe infection in which the flesh around an open wound dies. Some media reports call this kind of infection “flesh-eating bacteria,” even though necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by more than one type of bacteria.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and open lesions on the skin. People can be exposed to the bacteria by touching or consuming raw seafood, but it can also come from warm, brackish water.
"Flood waters and standing waters following a hurricane pose many risks, including infectious diseases such as Vibrio vulnificus," said Tammy Soliz, Public Information Officer for the Florida Department of Health in Lee County. "For that reason, the DOH-Lee is urging the public to take precautions against infection and illness caused by Vibrio vulnificus."
According to the Florida Department of Health's website, Vibrio vulnificus infections are rare, and is a naturally occurring bacteria in warm, brackish seawater.
"Water and wounds do not mix," the FDOH says. "Do not enter the water if you have fresh cuts or scrapes. Individuals who are immunocompromised, e.g chronic liver disease, kidney disease, or weakened immune system, should wear proper foot protection to prevent cuts and injury caused by rocks and shells on the beach.
In 2022, Florida has 65 cases of flesh-eating bacteria infections and 11 deaths. In 2021, there were 36 cases, in 2021, there were 34 cases including one case in Orange County and one death. The last time Florida experienced this many cases was after Hurricane Irma in 2017, with 50 confirmed cases and 11 deaths.
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