Flesh-eating bacteria infections spike after Florida struck by Hurricane Ian

Catastrophic flooding hit Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Credit: AP

A spike in infections from a rare flesh-eating bacteria has been reported in Florida in the days after Hurricane Ian battered the state with catastrophic flooding and high speed winds.

There have been 65 cases of Vibrio vulnificus infection and 11 deaths in the state this year so far, according to the Florida Department of Health.

By comparison, 34 cases and 10 deaths were reported across the state in all of 2021.

A large proportion of the infections are in Lee County, where the Category storm initially made landfall back in September.

Health officials didn't give a breakdown of how many of the cases were before or after Ian struck.

The authorities had advised Florida residents back on October 3 of the risks of Vibrio vulnificus infection.

In a statement, the department said: "Flood waters and standing waters following a hurricane pose many risks, including infectious diseases such as Vibrio vulnificus. For that reason, the Florida Department of Health in Lee County (DOH-Lee) is urging the public to take precautions against infection and illness caused by Vibrio vulnificus."

Florida has seen an increase in cases of flesh-eating bacteria this year after Hurricane Ian. Credit: AP

What is Vibrio vulnificus?

The bacterium usually lives in warm, brackish sea water and typically grow faster during warmer months.

Sewage spills in coastal waters, like those caused by Hurricane Ian, may increase bacteria levels.

People with open wounds, cuts, or scratches can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with sea water or brackish water.

It can also cause disease in those who eat raw or undercooked oysters and shellfish. The infection has the potential to cause severe illness or death.

Vibrio vulnificus can cause an infection of the skin when open wounds are exposed to warm sea water. These infections may lead to skin breakdown and ulcers.

Infections can be particularly severe for people with weakened immune systems - especially people who have chronic liver disease or take medications that lowers the body's ability to fight germs.

Vibrio vulnificus enters the bloodstream, causing a severe life-threatening illness with symptoms like fever, chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions. Vibrio vulnificus is not spread person-to-person.

The Florida Department for Health has recommended anyone concerned they may have been exposed to Vibrio vulnificus, and anyone who is experiencing symptoms, to seek medical attention immediately.

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