Take caution if you’re
headed to the Florida beaches this summer: A potentially deadly species of
bacteria found in saltwater has infected at least eight and killed three people so far this year, according to state officials.
Vibrio vulnificus blooms in Florida’s warm May to October climate. ABC News reported that
there were 32-recorded cases of infection in that state last year, and seven
The good news: Most of us
are at a low risk of death, or even harm, from the bug, which some people are
calling “flesh-eating” but is rarely that dangerous to watergoers, unless you
have an underlying immune problem, like liver disease, and/or an open cut or
wound. In that case, coming into contact Vibrio vulnificus could lead to
inflammation, ulcers, and, if the infection worsens, amputation and even death.
Even if you’re not
immunocompromised, note that the bacteria does proliferate in raw shellfish
caught in Florida—particularly in oysters, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC)—so “if you don’t cook your shellfish properly,
you’re setting yourself up for trouble,” says Aileen Marty, MD, professor of
infectious diseases at Florida International University.
Dr. Marty stresses, most people have nothing to fear from wandering into the Florida
waters this summer. But if you think you may have been infected, head to your
doctor ASAP for antibiotics, and to make sure you’re protected, follow these tips
from the CDC and the Florida Department of Health:
- Do not eat raw oysters or other raw
- Wear protective clothing (e.g.,
gloves) when handling raw shellfish.
- Cook shellfish (oysters, clams,
- Eat shellfish promptly after cooking
and refrigerate leftovers.
- Avoid exposure of open wounds or
broken skin to warm salt or brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from
- Individuals who are
immunocompromised should wear proper foot
protection. To prevent cuts
and injury caused by rocks and shells on the beach.