Vibrio vulnificus, sometimes called 'flesh-eating bacteria,' shown here under a microscope
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (AP/CBS) - State health department officials say 31 people across Florida have been infected this year by a potentially deadly, yet common bacteria that lives in salt water - and 10 of those people have died.
Experts said the vast majority of people aren't at risk of
contracting Vibrio vulnificus, which lives in warm salt water. It is in
the same family as cholera and is often referred to as "flesh-eating bacteria."
Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Vibrio is contracted one of two ways: by eating tainted shellfish or
when an open wound comes in contact with bacteria in warm seawater.
Dr. James Oliver, a Vibrio expert and a University of North Carolina
professor, says most of the people who die from the disease have
compromised immune systems.
Brevard County health officials issued a warning about the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium.
Experts warn against swimming or fishing in coastal lagoons for
people who have open wounds or cuts since that can lead to an infection
that eats away at the skin.
They also say people with weakened immune systems are at risk for an
infection if they eat raw shellfish contaminated with the bacteria.
Health officials said 59-year-old Henry "Butch" Konietzky died within 48 hours after he was exposed to bacteria while fishing for crabs in
the Halifax River.
In the case of Konietzky, his daughter Sheila said he noticed lesions
on his legs several hours after fishing and went to the emergency room
with his wife. But the bacteria had already spread through his body,
causing his kidneys to shut down.
Health officials say people should wear gloves and wash their hands after handling raw shellfish.