Health & Fitness

This ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria can cause fever, pain, death — and Florida cases went up

This photo provided by Patty Konietzky shows her husband's foot and what they thought was a bug bite on Sept. 22, 2013, in Ormond Beach, Fla. Patty and her husband, Henry "Butch" Konietzky, went crabbing in the Halifax River near Ormond Beach that month. Butch developed a sore that was later confirmed to be vibrio vulnificus. The bacteria spread quickly in his body and he died 60 hours later.
This photo provided by Patty Konietzky shows her husband's foot and what they thought was a bug bite on Sept. 22, 2013, in Ormond Beach, Fla. Patty and her husband, Henry "Butch" Konietzky, went crabbing in the Halifax River near Ormond Beach that month. Butch developed a sore that was later confirmed to be vibrio vulnificus. The bacteria spread quickly in his body and he died 60 hours later. AP

Sorry if this makes your skin crawl, but the “flesh-eating” bacteria known as Vibrio vulnificus have infected 346 people in Florida since 2008. Of those with the infections — which can cause skin lesions, fever, chills, diarrhea, severe pain and low blood pressure — 99 people, or nearly a third of those who contracted the waterborne bacteria, died.

The report was released earlier this month by the Florida Department of Health.

Miami-Dade saw three cases in that 10-year period, with three deaths. Broward had 16 cases and six deaths. Monroe had three cases and two deaths and Palm Beach had 12 cases and four deaths.

Brevard County led the state in deaths, with nine reported fatalities, while Hillsborough County led the state in total cases with 27.

Last year, the bacteria infected 49 people in Florida with 11 fatalities, a rise from 2016 when 10 people died after 46 contracted the disease whose bacteria typically live in warm, brackish water, but not oceans. People who enter the water with open wounds — and, yes, new tattoos are open wounds — can be susceptible. So can those who consume contaminated undercooked or raw seafood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States annually, especially from May to October, when waters are warmer and more people are swimming.

Last spring, a Texan man went for a dip in the Gulf of Mexico five days after receiving a tattoo on his arm that read “Jesus is my life” underneath a crucifix. He was dead a day after that swim after the Vibrio vulnificus caused septic shock, which led to kidney failure and death.

Collier County led Florida in 2017 with five cases and one death, followed by Lee and Hillsborough counties, reported TCPalm.

Despite the rise in infections, contracting Vibrio vulnificus, and dying from its unpleasant symptoms, is still rare. The state health department puts your chances of contracting Vibrio at about the same as being struck by lightning.

The risk applies primarily to people with cuts who swim in brackish water, allowing bacteria an entry point, and those with weakened immune systems. Consuming raw seafood like oysters or shellfish that once lived in contaminated water is another source of infection.

Though Vibrio is most often referred to as a flesh-eating bacterium, this is technically inaccurate since it doesn’t break down intact, healthy skin. For the bacteria to damage skin, you have to already have an open wound, like a new tattoo or scrape.

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