Florida officials reported that five people in the Tampa Bay area have died from complications from a flesh-eating bacterium known to lurk on beaches.
According to Florida Health, the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium’s natural habitat is warm, brackish seawater because it needs salt to survive.
In the warmer months, the bacteria typically grow faster.
Infections are rare, but health officials say those with open wounds, cuts or scrapes should stay away from the water.
Five people have died this year from reported bacterial infections, including two in Hilllsborough County and one each in Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties.
According to official figures, 26 cases of Vibrio vulnificus infection have been reported in Florida since January.
In 2022 there were a total of 74 cases and 17 deaths.
Those numbers were unusually high this year because Hurricane Ian spilled sewage into the sea and increased bacterial counts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some Vibrio vulnificus infections result in necrotizing fasciitis, a severe infection in which the flesh around an open wound dies. Necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by more than one type of bacteria.
People with open wounds, cuts or scrapes can be exposed to the bacterium through direct contact with the mixture of fresh and sea water.
Vibrio vulnificus can cause skin infection, which can lead to skin breakdown and ulcers.
While anyone can get Vibrio vulnificus infection, the infections can be more serious in people with compromised immune systems.
The bacterium can enter the bloodstream and cause a serious life-threatening illness with symptoms such as fever, chills, low blood pressure and blistering skin lesions.
It can lead to serious illness or death. According to the CDC, about one in five people sometimes die within a day or two of the disease.
Vibrio vulnificus can also cause illness in people who eat raw or undercooked oysters and shellfish.
It does not spread from person to person, but people with symptoms should see a doctor right away.
Last week, the New York State Health Department released guidance for residents on detecting Vibrio vulnificus infection after the bacterium claimed the lives of a New York resident and two Connecticut residents over the summer.
The state Department of Health said three people were known to be infected with the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium.
Gov. Kathy Hochul called the flesh-eating bacteria “extremely dangerous” and urged her constituents to take precautions against the bacteria.
“The Vibrio bacterium, while rare, has unfortunately made its way to this region and can be extremely dangerous,” Hochul said in a press release. “As we conduct further investigations, it is vital that all New Yorkers remain vigilant and take responsible precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones. This includes protecting open wounds from seawater and, for people with compromised immune systems, avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish, which can potentially infect the bacteria.”