Florida state health officials are warning beachgoers of a rare saltwater bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, that has infected seven and killed two people this year, reports CBS News. Vibrio vulnificus’ numbers increase in the summer months as the water gets warmer, and the bacteria can infect people in many different ways.
“People can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus when they eat raw shellfish,” Florida Health Department’s Mara Burger said in a statement. “Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater.”
If ingested, Vibrio vulnificus can cause stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. And if the bacteria enters an open wound, it can cause healthy tissue to begin to ulcerate and die in a process known as necrosis — a symptom that some liken to so-called “flesh-eating” bacteria. Maggie Hall of the Florida Department of Health’s Pinellas County office says that despite the potentially nasty effect it can have, it’s best not to call Vibrio vulnificus a “flesh-eating” bacteria.
“There is no such medical term and the organism is not a Pac-man consuming pac-dots,” Hall said.
Although healthy people typically have mild symptoms treatable with antibiotics, those with weakened immune systems, particularly people with liver disease, are warned that the bacteria can be fatal, according to CBS. Vibrio vulnificus can get into the bloodstream and cause fever, chills, blistering skin lesions, septic shock and death.
The Florida Health Department advises eating only cooked shellfish and that anyone with cuts or other wounds on the skin avoid saltwater beaches. There were 32 cases of people infected with Vibrio vulnificus last year.