The aftermath of Hurricane Ian has led to an increase in reported infections of a rare carnivorous bacterium in Florida.
There have been 65 cases of Vibrio vulnificus and 11 deaths in the state this year through Friday, according to the Florida Department of Health. It was up from 34 reported cases and 10 deaths in 2021.
Many of the infections – often referred to as a “meat-eating” bacterial infection – were in Lee County, where Ian landed as a Category 4 hurricane on September 28.
All 29 infections and four deaths recorded in Lee County but two were diagnosed after the hurricane, CNN reported.
Collier County has reported three cases considered to be related to the storm.
“[The Florida Department of Health in Lee County] is observing an anomalous increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections following exposure to floodwaters and stagnant waters following Hurricane Ian, “a spokesperson told the broadcaster.
“As of September 29, 2022, 26 cases of Vibrio vulnificus associated with Hurricane Ian have been reported in DOH-Lee. All 26 cases had infectious wounds due to exposure to Hurricane Ian floodwaters that occurred from the wave of storm that entered their homes or during the cleaning storm. There were six deaths among Lee County residents. “
Vibrio vulnificus is considered a “meat eater” because infections can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, a serious infection in which the flesh around an open wound dies, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is not the only type of bacteria that can cause infection.
The Florida Department of Health said Vibrio vulnificus normally lives in warm brackish seawater, and infections are rare.
“Water and wounds don’t mix,” he advises. “Don’t go into the water if you have fresh cuts or scrapes.”
In a floodwater safety fact sheet, it states that people with open cuts and injuries should avoid skin contact with floodwaters.
People can also become infected with Vibrio vulnificus when they eat raw shellfish, especially oysters.
The infection can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It can also cause a skin infection when open wounds are exposed to warm sea water, which could cause skin lesions and ulcers. It can also invade the bloodstream and cause serious and life-threatening illnesses with symptoms such as fever, chills, decreased blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions.