A flesh-eating bacteria that thrives in warm seawater has killed two and infected at least nine in Florida this year, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Individuals are usually infected with the bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, when they eat raw shellfish, the FDH says. However, those with open wounds should be extra cautious when going for a swim in the ocean.
“Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater,” a statement posted by the FDH warned.
[sharequote align=”center”]”Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed…”[/sharequote]
“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,” the statement added, noting the flesh-eating bacteria can “invade the bloodstream” resulting in “severe and life-threatening illness.”
According to the latest statistics from the FDH, updated July 25, there have been 11 cases of Vibrio vulnificus in Florida this year, two of which have proven fatal. In 2013, there were 41 cases and 11 deaths.
The FDH recommends that those who suspect they may have contracted bacteria seek immediate medical attention. The agency said “antibiotics improve survival,” adding that “aggressive attention should be given to the wound site; for patients with wound infections, amputation of the infected limb is sometimes necessary.”
Steve Gyland survived a battle with the flesh-eating bacteria after contracting it through a blister while scuba diving in the Bahamas.
“It was like you were on fire. Like a burn-blister from a fire. It was weeks before I could walk on that leg,” he told WPTV.
[sharequote align=”center”]”It was like you were on fire. Like a burn-blister from a fire.”[/sharequote]
“You could just watch the red, blistery skin just grow and expand and move up your leg,” Gyland added.
Florida isn’t the only state where the bacteria exists. Other states in the nearby region have also reported cases in the past.
Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter