Florida officials warn of rare flesh-eating bacteria at beaches

Published June 12, 2015

In 2015 so far, seven people have been infected and two killed by a rare, potentially deadly bacteria that thrives in the warm saltwater of Florida beaches, state health officials said on Monday.

Last year, 32 cases of Vibrio vulnificus were reported in Florida and over 85 percent of infections occur between May and October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"People can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus when they eat raw shellfish," Florida Health Department spokeswoman 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 the bacterium are consumed through contaminated food, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain

According to state health officials, Vibrio vulnificus infections can be avoided by cooking shellfish thoroughly and not eating it raw, avoiding cross-contamination of cooked foods with raw seafood, and eating shellfish promptly after cooking. People who are immunocompromised are also at risk for infection, according to the CDC.

If an infection is suspected, antibiotic treatment should begin immediately to improve the chance of survival. For patients with wound infections, amputation is sometimes necessary.

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