Five people have died so far this year from flesh-eating bacteria, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.
Vibrio vulnificus, or necrotizing fasciitis, is an infection which causes painful swelling and blisters over a wound site. It’s often contracted in seawater when someone has an open wound.
Doctors say the aggressive infection is somewhat rare and can come from different strains of bacteria. Warm summer waters in Tampa Bay or the Gulf of Mexico provide ideal growing conditions for the bacteria.
Those who have the infection can feel flu-like symptoms of fever, dizziness and cold sweats right away. Severe complications are common, like sepsis, shock and organ failure.
Even with treatment, one in three patients die from necrotizing fasciitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2010, the agency says, between 700 and 1,200 people a year have contracted the infection in the United States.
So far this year, 26 cases have been reported in Florida. That’s down from 74 cases reported last year. Seventeen people died in Florida in 2022. The five deaths reported so far this year came from Sarasota, Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties, according to department of health data.
People don’t have to be in the water to catch this, although that is the most common exposure. One Tampa Bay man contracted the bacteria from a human bite.
Most healthy adults will be able to fight off a necrotizing fasciitis infection without intense hospital care, doctors say. It’s the elderly, children and people with compromised immune systems who are more susceptible to the infection, if they have open wounds or lesions.
The easiest way to avoid contracting the infection is to wash your hands regularly. Also avoid going in warm saltwater or brackish water, hot tubs and swimming pools and eating raw seafood, like crab, oysters or sushi.
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