Earlier this summer, Florida health officials issued a press release warning beachgoers about the dangers of Vibrio vulnificus, a potentially deadly infectious bacteria that lurks in warm ocean and brackish waters. This week, news of the health scare has circulated online, or "gone viral" as they say.
Usually that's the intent of the press release. But one official with Florida's Department of Health says reporters have supplied their stories with some rather alarming and inaccurate language -- specifically the words, "flesh-eating bacteria" or "flesh-eating virus."
Those words weren't in the department's original press release, issued about the same time every year, and for good reason says DOH press secretary Sheri Hutchinson.
"Number one, vibrio is not a flesh-eating virus," Hutchinson told Panama City's The News Herald.
CDC doesn't use those words either; it describes Vibrio vulnificus as baterium that can cause infection via digestion (of either infected sea water or uncooked seafood) or open wound. Infection of a wound "may lead to skin breakdown and ulceration," the CDC explains -- but apparently isn't "flesh eating."
When ingested the infection causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. The disease is mostly only life threatening for those with a weakened immune system. In these cases, the bacteria can infect the bloodstream and instigate potentially fatal health complications such as septic shock. Roughly 50 percent of bloodstream infections are fatal, the CDC notes.
Though Hutchinson said the hype isn't necessarily in line with the prevalence or risk of the disease, it still isn't something to be scoffed at. A handful of people die from it every year in Florida and other states along the Gulf. Hutchinson advised anyone showing symptoms to see a doctor immediately.