Beware Of Flesh-Eating Bacterium Vulnificus In Flooded Areas
In the wake of flooding from Hurricane Ian, Lee County, Florida, has seen what the state’s Department of Health called an “abnormal increase” in cases of a rare bacterial infection, Jen Christensen and Carma Hassan reported for CNN.
Photo Insert: Vibrio vulnificus naturally lives in warm, salty or brackish water. It comes from the same family as the bacteria that causes cholera.
Florida has reported 64 Vibrio vulnificus infections and 13 deaths this year as of Friday, according to the health department, up from 34 cases and 10 deaths last year. This is the first time the number of cases has gone above 50 since 2008, when the state started keeping track.
Many of the cases have been concentrated in Lee County, where residents have been cleaning up after Category 4 Hurricane Ian made landfall at the end of September. Vibrio vulnificus causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the US every year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vibrio vulnificus naturally lives in warm, salty or brackish water. It comes from the same family as the bacteria that causes cholera. Vibrio can be found in waters around the world. In the US, it lives in the Gulf of Mexico and along some of the coastal waters of the East and West Coasts.
The bacteria proliferate in the warmer months when ocean temperatures are at their highest.
Infections can happen when someone comes into contact with water with large amounts of the bacteria in it or eats contaminated seafood. A mild case of vibriosis typically includes chills, fever, diarrhea, stomach pain, and possibly vomiting.
Usually, people get sick within the first day of exposure to the bacteria. Skin wounds infected with Vibrio vulnificus typically develop blisters, abscesses, and ulcers.
Vibrio vulnificus is one of the bacteria that can cause what’s commonly known as a flesh-eating infection.
Necrotizing fasciitis eats away at the skin, muscles, nerves, fat and blood vessels around an infected wound. In more severe cases, people can develop septicemia. This is more common for those with underlying health conditions, particularly liver disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV or other diseases that suppress the immune system.
Septicemia is when the bacteria enter the bloodstream and spreads. It can cause fever, chills, low blood pressure or skin blisters. This may lead to septic shock, when blood pressure takes a dangerous drop.
The bacteria releases toxins into the bloodstream that could cause extremely slow blood flow, damaging tissue and organs. It can also cause sepsis, in which the body mounts a strong immune response that shuts down important organs like the heart or the kidneys.
Or it can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, a condition in which oxygen from the lungs doesn’t reach the blood. This can cause brain damage and permanent lung damage.