In Florida, an 'Abnormal' Jump in Flesh-Eating Bacteria Cases

Hurricane Ian may be to blame
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 19, 2022 1:53 PM CDT
In Florida, an 'Abnormal' Jump in Flesh-Eating Bacteria Cases
Debris is piled up at the end of a cove following heavy winds and storm surge caused by Hurricane Ian, Sept. 29, 2022, in Barefoot Beach, Fla.   (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Florida has seen an increase in cases of flesh-eating bacteria this year driven largely by a surge in the county hit hardest by Hurricane Ian. The state Department of Health reports that as of Friday there have been 65 cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections and 11 deaths in Florida this year. That compares with 34 cases and 10 deaths reported during all of 2021. In Lee County, where Ian stormed ashore last month, the health department reports 29 cases this year and four deaths. ABC News reports it logged only five cases and one death in 2021 and no cases at all in 2020.

Health officials didn't give a breakdown of how many of the cases were before or after Ian struck, notes the AP. But the BBC reports the Lee County Health Department put the blame at the storm's feet on Monday: "The Florida Department of Health in Lee County is observing an abnormal increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections as a result of exposure to the flood-waters and standing waters following Hurricane Ian," it said in a statement.

Lee County health officials earlier this month warned people that the post-hurricane environment—including warm, standing water—could pose a danger from the potentially deadly bacteria. NPR notes the Vibrio vulnificus population grows during warm months (it should begin to drop sharply as the cold sets in late this month) and may also experience a bump when sewage enters coastal waters, as happened during Hurricane Ian. The county health department said in a news release Oct. 3 that people with open wounds, cuts, or scratches can be exposed to the bacteria through contact with sea water or brackish water. People with open wounds should avoid such water and seek medical care immediately if an infection is apparent. (Read more Florida stories.)

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