Flesh-eating bacteria are being found once again in the waters off Florida beaches. As temperatures rise in the Sunshine State, beachgoers are being warned of the dangers of the microorganisms.

Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria that thrives in warm seawater, capable of eating the flesh of human beings until victims die a painful death. Florida health officials report seven people have been infected with the virus and two people have died of the resulting disease so far this season.

"Vibrio vulnificus is a rare cause of disease, but it is also underreported. Between 1988 and 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received reports of more than 900 Vibrio vulnificus infections from the Gulf Coast states, where most cases occur," the Florida Health Department reported.

Beachgoers can become infected with the potentially deadly bacteria by entering the ocean with open wounds or by consuming improperly prepared shellfish.

"People can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus when they eat raw shellfish. Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater," said Mara Burger, spokeswoman for the Florida Health Department.

Vibrio vulnificus infections are rare, and the microorganisms are members of the group of halophilic bacteria, which require salt to live. As a result, these bacteria are unable to survive in fresh water.

Since the bacteria grow fastest in waters with temperatures between 68 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, most infections by the flesh-eating bacteria occur between the months of May and October. In 2014, seven of the 32 people diagnosed with vulnificus infections died from the effects of the bacteria.

Health officials are advising visitors to the beach to avoid entering the water if they have any open wounds, fresh cuts or scrapes. They are also advising people with compromised immune systems to wear sandals or other foot protection when entering waters in order to avoid small cuts and scrapes from rocks, shells and assorted debris on the ocean bed.

Infections caused by eating infected shellfish result in symptoms including vomiting, intestinal distress and pain throughout the abdomen of victims. Most people who become infected with the bacteria only develop a mild form of the disease and just a few go on to experience the most serious symptoms. If the bacteria hit the bloodstream, the infection can become septic, which occurs in 80 percent of those with significant preexisting conditions. Half of the patients who experience this degree of infection will die from the disease.

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