Vibrio flesh-eating bacterium detected in Florida seawater

Mississippi fisherman loses arm to Vibrio flesh-eating bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico

A potentially deadly flesh-eating bacteria has been detected in some Florida seawaters.

Seven people have become infected with the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium and two have died from exposure so far this year in Florida, CBS News reports.​

"People can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus when they eat raw shellfish," Florida Health Department spokeswoman Mara Burger said. "Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater."

Symptoms from ingesting food contaminated with the bacterium include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. When exposure to Vibrio vulnificus occurs through an open wound, it can cause flesh-eating like symptoms that include skin breakdown and ulcers.

According to the Florida state health department, there have been 32 cases of Vibrio vulnificus bacterium in the past 12 months.

The warmer sea temperature from May to October causes the bacterium to grow faster in warm saltwater. Confirmed cases of infection in 2015 have occurred in the following Florida counties: Brevard, Broward, Duval, Marion, Pasco, Santa Rosa, and St. Lucie.

One death each occurred in Brevard and Marion Counties, reports Rare.

Generally healthy people only experience mild symptoms when exposed but those with a weakened immune system, especially if they suffer from chronic liver disease, are at higher risk for severe complications. The bacterium may invade the bloodstream and cause fever, chills, blistering skin lesions, septic shock, and death.

It is recommended that those with fresh cuts or scrapes avoid entering the water and proper foot wear be worn on the beach to prevent cuts caused by rocks and shells.

Shellfish, including oysters, clams, and mussels, should be cooked thoroughly before eating, and raw shellfish should be avoided.

The normal treatment for Vibrio vulnificus is antibiotics. In some extreme cases, amputation of the infected limb may be necessary.