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Health Officials In Florida Attempt To Allay Public Fear Over Flesh-Eating Bacteria

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Health officials in Florida made efforts to assure the public that Vibrio is not as exaggeratingly threatening as it seems.

From late May to early June, fear has clouded the state when news about the flesh-eating Vibrio vulnificus bacterium spread out. However, the Florida Health Department says that the wide media coverage published inaccuracies which have caused a great deal of concern among Floridians. One concern was regarding the safety of the beaches related to previous cases involving the bacteria.

"Our goal is to ensure the public has accurate information regarding any potential health risk, which is why we issued a press release," says Mara Burger, spokeswoman of the state health department.

Burger adds that unnecessary fear can be caused by inaccurate information that is sensationalized. She clarifies that Vibrio vulnificus is not flesh-eating. While it is true that when Vibrio is left untreated it could greatly affect the body's soft tissues, this complication - called necrotizing fasciitis - is something caused by more than just Vibrio.

One can get Vibrio usually by (1) eating raw or undercooked oysters and other shellfish, and (2) exposing open wounds, cuts and scratches to brackish and salt water.

Burger stresses that it is important to seek medical assistance when wounds look infected. It is also safe to cover open wounds with dry bandages until they have healed.

In spite of the concerns over the safety of beaches in Florida, the Department of Health assures that a normally healthy person without any open wounds is not at risk. As long as the proper precautions are taken in preventing infection, visitors should be free to explore the state's beaches.

For those with weaker immune systems, and espscially for chronic liver disease patients, risk is higher. The rare infection, according to Burger, can lead to gastroenteritis, sepsis and, if untreated, amputation.

Eight cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections were reported in 2015. This includes two deaths. In the past 12 months, the health department reported 32 cases. From data gathered from 2008 to 2013, the highest number of cases was recorded in 2013 as 41, while the highest number of reported deaths was in 2011 as 13. Most of the cases and deaths were reported to have occurred between May to October, when the waters in the state are warmest.

The Department of Health releases information each year to remind Floridians of ways to prevent getting infected by the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium normally found in warm brackish water.

     

Photo: Nate Stelner | Flickr

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