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Florida health officials warn of flesh-eating bacteria

"We wanted to get the warning out there to make sure people are educated about it," said Pamela Crane.
By Brooks Hays   |   July 29, 2014 at 5:40 PM
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., July 29 (UPI) -- A flesh eating bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus has infected at least 11 Floridians so far this year, killing two. Florida officials are warning beach-goers that the bacterium, which thrives in warm salt water, can infect swimmers via open cuts and scrapes.

The bacterium in naturally occuring in ocean water, and has infected people in other states, including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. It killed 11 Floridians in 2011.

Vibrio vulnificus is a relative of the bacterium that causes Cholera. If swimmers ingest infected salt water, the bacterium can cause stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. But it is most dangerous when it invades the skin via open wounds, which can lead to "skin breakdown and ulceration," according to the CDC.

Most infections are successfully treated with a course of antibiotics, but severe skin infections can result in amputation; and for those with weakened immune systems, the infections can prove fatal.

Florida officials are reminding Florida swimmers to avoid swimming in warm saltwater or brackish water with open wounds. The bacterium can also be ingested via contaminated seafood, so officials advise wearing protective clothing when handling raw shellfish. Additionally, the CDC reminds consumers to cook shellfish thoroughly and to take proper food safety precautions, like avoiding cross contamination and refrigerating leftovers immediately.

"It's rare," said Florida Department of Health Deputy Press Secretary Pamela Crane. "But we wanted to get the warning out there to make sure people are educated about it."

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