Brown Caloosahatchee River water meets the green Gulf waters Thursday, August 22 off near the Sanibel Lighthouse.
Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) -- Dangerous bacteria linked to scores of illnesses and several deaths
this summer in Florida have infected seven people in Lee County,
including two people who later died, state health department officials
Vibrio vulnificus lives
in salt water and, in rare cases, can be fatal. It also can cause skin
lesions and blisters, prompting some to call it a "flesh-eating"
bacterium - a label that Dr. Judith Hartner, the health department's
director in Lee County, called an exaggeration.
See Also: Health department urges caution to prevent flesh-eating bacteria
two fatal Lee County infections involved one county resident in his
early 50s, who died last month, and a visitor to the area, who died in
July and was older than 60, Hartner said.
were infected after going into the Gulf of Mexico with open wounds,
Hartner said. She said she does not know where they entered the water.
The other five victims, all Lee residents, were infected with
less-dangerous Vibrio varieties, she added.
Lee County typically sees about five such cases a year, Hartner said. Most are not serious, she said.
"It's pretty rare," she said.
1988 to 2006, about 900 U.S. residents have reported Vibrio infections,
most from Gulf Coast states, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention based in Atlanta. Florida sees about 30 such
cases a year.
state has seen at least 27 such cases in 2013, and nine deaths
associated with Vibrio vulnificus, according to Health Department
officials in Tallahassee. The department issued a public health alert
last week about Vibrio vulnificus and is expected to update infection
numbers today, said spokeswoman Sheri Hutchinson.
said her office debated whether to issue a public alert about the
infection risk and the deaths this year, but ultimately decided not to.
She said she concluded that repeated warnings about every health threat
might overwhelm the public and make people ignore more pressing alerts.
"There was no specific public health message to deliver. It was an isolated event," Hartner said.
84-year-old woman received treatment, and had a leg amputated, at a
Naples-area hospital after becoming infected with Vibrio vulnificus. But
its unclear if she was exposed to the bacteria in Collier or in
Hernando counties, said Deb Millsap, spokeswoman for the department's
Collier County office. And, because the woman did not reside in Collier,
the department doesn't count it as a Collier County case, she said.
vulnificus is usually found in warm, brackish seawater, according to
the health department. It is also found in some raw shellfish, such as
symptoms of infection include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, the
health department said. It may also cause ulcers on the skin or cause
the skin to break down. Symptoms are usually mild for people with
healthy immune systems.
Infections are treated with antibiotics.
warned residents to avoid raw oysters and to not expose wounds to salt
water. She also advised people to dismiss those who mistakenly believe
that salt water has curative properties.
appears to be a common folk remedy around here," she said. "But the
risk is getting an infection from the saltwater if you go in the water
with a wound."
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