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Flesh-Eating Bacteria Vibrio vulnificus Thrive In Florida Waters: What To Know And How To Stay Safe

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Beachgoers are at risk once again as Florida waters become contaminated with the flesh-eating bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. The state health department had reported a total of 32 cases of infected individuals in 2014 in Florida, seven of whom died. The bacteria thrive in warm waters and for this, authorities are strongly warning the public as temperatures start to go up this season.

The Florida Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released a list of information, which could help to prevent and manage the infection caused by the halophilic or salt-loving bacteria. Data regarding modes of transmission, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, medical and home treatment and possible outcomes are essential to the entire management of the disease.

Modes of Transmission

Vibrio vulnificus may be contracted in two ways. The first mode of transmission is when individuals eat raw or undercooked shellfish, specifically oysters. The bacteria lurk and isolate itself within shellfishes that settle in warm, coastal waters during the hot, summer months. Another way of contracting the bacteria is through direct exposure with infected seawater. The bacteria can get in contact with the person through open wounds and scrapes hence, people with such skin problems are highly discouraged to go to warm seawaters. Person-to-person contact is not recognized to be an effective mode of transmission.

Diagnosis

Infections caused by the bacteria may be diagnosed through healthy history assessment and diagnostic examinations. Medical practitioners typically asked suspected patients for recent history of abdominal pain, and fever, particularly among those who just ate a shellfish or dipped in warm seawater amidst having an open wound. Further diagnostic workup include culture testings of body specimen samples such as blood, wound and stool. The public is highly advised to inform their doctor of any possible incidences that may lead to a diagnosis of Vibrio vulnificus infection.

Clinical Manifestations

The signs and symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus infection include abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Existing open wounds may also be exacerbated and lead to ulcers and skin breakdown, which may necessitate amputation. Mild clinical manifestations are usually noted for people without comorbidities but those who have immunocompromised states due to current diseases such as chronic liver disease may experience more severe symptoms including septic shock, blisters and chills.

Prevention

Authorities recommend various preventive measures against the infection. The primary preventive intervention is to avoid eating raw shellfish. If it cannot be avoided, cook the seafood thoroughly by boiling it until the shell opens and bringing it to a boil for another five minutes. Steaming the shellfish until it open may also be performed but continuous cooking is necessary for nine more minutes. For oysters, boil them for three minutes at the minimum or fry them for at least 10 minutes at 375°F; never mix cooked seafood with other food items and eat them immediately or place leftover in the refrigerator.

As an open wound is one of the main portal of entry of the bacteria to the body of its host, the public is also advised to wear protective gear such as gloves when cooking or protective footwear when going into the water.

Treatment

Medical management for Vibrio vulnificus infections include antibiotic therapy and strict monitoring of wound site. Surgical interventions such as debridement, fasciotomy and amputation may be necessary in severely infected wounds.

According to the CDC, Vibrio vulnificus infections are acute and long-term illnesses are not usually associated with the disease. Nonetheless, the public should be well-informed about the bacteria and the disease it cause to prevent further cases.

Photo: Barbara Ann Spengler | Flickr

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