Florida Warns of Warm Water Flesh-Eating Bacteria

From the WebMD Archives

July 30, 2014 -- Florida health officials are cautioning visitors to the state's beaches about the threat of a flesh-eating bacteria lurking in warm seawater this summer.

Vibrio vulnificus propagates in warm water and if swallowed can cause stomachache, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If it enters an open wound, "skin breakdown and ulceration" can also occur, the CDC said.

According to ABC News, 11 Floridians have already been infected with Vibrio vulnificus in 2014 and two have died. Last year, 41 people contracted the illness in the state and 11 died. Similar outbreaks have occurred in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, the CDC said.

The agency stressed that most people who contract Vibrio vulnificus will recover after taking antibiotics, but in cases where the illness becomes "flesh-eating," surgery and even amputation may be needed.

According to the CDC, you can protect yourself from the bacterium by keeping open wounds away from warm saltwater, brackish water or shellfish; wear protective clothing if you handle raw shellfish; cook all shellfish thoroughly and don't let shellfish "juices" drip onto other food. Shellfish that is not eaten soon after cooking should be refrigerated.