Credit Florida DOH
While it is not always appreciated by tourists (and even some locals) here in Florida - once you step out of the tightly controlled environs of our mega-amusement parks - some of our best attractions can carry with them some unexpected hazards.
Parts of Florida remain as wild, and potentially dangerous, as it was a hundred years ago.
Hence admonitions not to feed, taunt, or otherwise engage our sizable population of alligators, warnings to beachgoers to shuffle your feet while wading to ward off horseshoe crabs, and caveats about ours being the lightning capital of the United States (4 lightning related deaths already in 2014).
Not all of our local hazards are as vicious as alligators, or as vivid as lightning bolts. Some are microscopic, and can hide in the warm waters of the Gulf coast and in contaminated seafood.
Such is a bacteria called Vibrio Vulnificus.
Ingestion of Vibrio vulnificus can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, but for healthy people, rarely causes serious illness. The State of Florida warns, however: Vibrio vulnificus infections can be a serious concern for people who have weakened immune systems, particularly those with chronic liver disease
The most common route of infection is by eating raw or undercooked shellfish (oysters, mainly). Which is why I’ll take my oysters deep fried or steamed, thank you.
V. vulnificus can cause an infection of the skin when open wounds are exposed to warm seawater; these infections may lead to skin breakdown and ulceration. Persons who are immunocompromised are at higher risk for invasion of the organism into the bloodstream and potentially fatal complications.
These skin infections can prove quite nasty, and the press often refers to it as a `flesh eating bacteria’. Antibiotics and extensive debridement of necrotic tissue are the standard treatments, and in some instances amputation is required.
It should be noted that millions of people swim in the Gulf and Atlantic waters off Florida every year, and only a small handful are affected. Frankly, you have a far better chance of drowning than acquiring this bacterial infection.
Nevertheless . . . . a handful of people do each year.
In order to remind the public of the dangers and to reduce the incidence of infection, yesterday Florida’s Department of Health released the following announcement:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: DOH Communications June 17, 2014 (850) 245-4111
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Health urges Floridians with certain health conditions to avoid eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to seawater and estuarine water, which may harbor bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. Occurring naturally in the warm coastal waters, particularly during the summer months, Vibrio vulnificus has the potential to cause serious illness.
Persons who have wounds, cuts or scratches and wade in estuarine areas or seawater where the bacteria might be present can become ill. Symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus in wound infections typically include swelling, pain and redness at the wound site.
Other symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus infection include; nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, chills, and the formation of blistering skin lesions. Individuals experiencing these symptoms should contact a physician immediately for diagnosis and treatment.
Individuals with liver disease, including Hepatitis C and cirrhosis, are most at risk for developing serious illness from Vibrio vulnificus obtained from eating raw oysters. Others who should avoid consuming raw shellfish are those with hemochromatosis (iron overload), diabetes, cancer, stomach disorders or any illness or treatment that weakens the immune system. Thoroughly cooking oysters, either by frying, stewing, or roasting eliminates harmful bacteria and viruses in the meat. Consuming raw oysters that have undergone a post-harvest treatment process to eliminate the bacteria can also reduce the risk of illness.
A total of 41 cases of Vibrio vulnificus were reported during 2013 and to date this year there have been six cases, four due to the infection of an open wound and two from consuming raw shellfish. For more information, please view this
Despite the dangers, and considering we have 80 million yearly visitors, and 20 million residents, surprisingly few run afoul of our natural hazards. For that, public education and awareness is probably the biggest mitigating factor, something actively pursued by both the Florida Department of Health and Florida’s Division of Emergency Management.
For some of my earlier posts on Vibrio, you may wish to revisit: