An increase in infections with a rare carnivorous bacterium has been reported in Florida in the days following Hurricane Ian due to catastrophic flooding from the storm.
There have been 65 cases of Vibrio vulnificus infection and 11 deaths in the state this year as of Friday, according to the Florida Department of Health, compared with 34 cases and 10 deaths reported statewide in all of 2021.
Many of the infections are in Lee County. Ian landed as a Category 4 storm on September 28 in Lee County, which includes Fort Myers and Sanibel Island in southwest Florida.
On October 3, the Florida Department of Health in Lee County warned residents of the dangers of Vibrio vulnificus.
“As the post-storm situation evolves, DOH-Lee is urging the public to take precautions against infections and diseases caused by Vibrio vulnificus,” spokesperson Tammy Soliz told CNN on Tuesday in an email.
“DOH-Lee is seeing an abnormal increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections following exposure to floodwaters and stagnant waters following Hurricane Ian. As of September 29, 2022, 26 cases of Vibrio vulnificus associated with Hurricane Ian have been reported in DOH-Lee. All 26 cases had infectious wounds due to exposure to Hurricane Ian floodwaters that occurred as a result of the storm surge that entered their homes or during post-storm cleanup. There have been six deaths among Lee County residents. ”
Prior to the storm, there were two cases of Vibrio vulnificus in Lee County and 37 cases in the state, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.
“What we are seeing with our trends is that cases are actually decreasing [since the storm]which is a great thing, “Florida Department of Health spokesman Jae Williams said Tuesday.
Vibrio vulnificus is a naturally occurring bacterium that lives in hot salt water and infects humans through the consumption of undercooked crustaceans and skin wounds.
Infections are “very prevalent with floods,” Williams said. Ian “brought an astronomical record amount of flooding. Not all hurricanes cause this type of flooding. ”
The Florida Department of Health released floodwater safety information before, during and after the storm through social media messages and radio announcements, Williams said. The fact sheet warns people with open cuts and wounds to avoid skin contact with floodwaters.
Symptoms of Vibrio infection, or vibriosis, include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. Treatment isn’t always necessary and serious illnesses are rare, but doctors prescribe antibiotics in the most persistent cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In extreme cases, the bacteria can lead to blood infections, blistering skin lesions, amputations, or death.
“Vibriosis causes approximately 80,000 diseases and 100 deaths in the United States each year,” the CDC says on its website.
Most at risk of serious illness and death from Vibrio vulnificus are people with weakened immune systems or those with liver disease, according to the CDC.