Five people have died in the Tampa Bay area from a flesh-eating bacteria known to lurk on beaches, Florida officials have reported.
According to Florida Health, the natural habitat of the vibrio vulnificus bacteria is warm, brackish seawater because it needs salt to live. Bacteria generally grow faster during the warmer months.
Infections are rare, but health officials say those with open wounds, cuts or scrapes should stay out of the water.
Five people have died this year from reported bacterial infections, including two in Hilsborough County and one in Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties. There have been 26 reported cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections in Florida since January, officials said.
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In 2022, there were 74 total cases and 17 deaths. Those numbers were unusually high that year because Hurricane Ian dumped sewage into the ocean, increasing bacteria levels.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some Vibrio vulnificus infections lead to necrotizing fasciitis, a severe infection in which the flesh around an open wound dies. Necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by several types of bacteria.
People with open wounds, cuts or scrapes can be exposed to the bacteria through direct contact with the mixture of fresh and salt water.
Vibrio vulnificus can cause a skin infection which can lead to skin breakdown and ulcers.
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Although anyone can get a Vibrio vulnificus infection, infections can be more serious in people with weakened immune systems.
The bacteria can invade the bloodstream, causing severe, life-threatening illness with symptoms such as fever, chills, decreased blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions.
It has the potential to cause serious illness or death; the CDC says about one in five people sometimes die within a day or two of becoming ill.
Vibrio vulnificus can also cause illness in people who eat raw or undercooked oysters and shellfish.
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It is not passed from person to person, but people who have symptoms should see a doctor immediately.
Last week, the New York State Department of Health released guidance for residents to identify Vibrio vulnificus infections after the bacteria claimed the lives of a New York resident and two Connecticut residents in summer course.
The state Department of Public Health said there are three people known to have been infected with the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.
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Governor Kathy Hochul described the flesh-eating bacteria as “extraordinarily dangerous” and called on her constituents to take precautions against the bacteria.
“Although rare, vibrio bacteria have unfortunately reached this region and can be extremely dangerous,” Hochul said in a press release. “As we investigate further, it is essential that all New Yorkers remain vigilant and take responsible precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including protecting open wounds from seawater and for people whose immune system is weakened, avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish which can carry bacteria.”
Julia Musto and Sarah Rumpf-Whitten of Fox News contributed to this report.