'Flesh-Eating' Water Bacteria Kills 2 People

Vibrio vulnificus can be vicious if it enters the bloodstream
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2015 3:40 PM CDT
Rare Water Bacteria Kills 2 People
People enjoy the beach and heavy surf Wednesday July 2, 2014, at Jacksonville Beach, Fla.    (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack)

A bacterium that flourishes in warm, brackish water has killed two people in Florida this year and will likely take more lives—but people can easily lower their chance of infection. Florida health officials say one person picked up the bacterium, known as vibrio vulnificus, via "raw seafood exposure" and another through "multiple exposures," UPI reports. It's not unusual in Florida, where 32 vibrio vulnificus cases were reported last year and seven were fatal. People usually get infected by entering vibrio vulnificus-infected water with open wounds—even a mosquito bite can serve as a point of entry, per the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory—or eating raw seafood. Sufferers with weakened immune systems (chronic liver disease in particular) are especially at risk, according to the Florida Department of Health. Mild cases resemble stomach flu or food poisoning, CBS News reports, but vibrio vulnificus becomes life-threatening when it enters the bloodstream.

Then come symptoms like blistering skin lesions, low blood pressure, chills, and fever. Sufferers sometimes endure painful skin infections and have their limbs amputated; death results in about half of life-threatening cases. As the laboratory puts it, that's "said by many experts to be the highest human fatality rate for any bacterium." The more grim results explain why vibrio vulnificus is loosely called a "flesh-eating" bacteria even though it doesn't meet the official criteria, UPI noted last year. For more, see WTVM's list of ways to avoid vibrio vulnificus, including tips on shellfish-cooking and a warning to avoid raw oysters altogether. Another vibrio vulnificus factoid: Maryland and Gulf Coast states like Florida have the worst infection rates, but the bacterium is spreading to new waters thanks to global warming, per the laboratory. (More dangers in our waters: Two teens lost limbs on Sunday in North Carolina shark attacks.)

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