Katie Kerekes, FISM News
Following the destruction left by Hurricane Ian, Florida residents are seeing a rise in the threat of flesh-eating bacteria which thrives in floodwater conditions with the “potential to cause severe illness or death.”
In a report detailing the risks surrounding the infection, known as Vibrio vulnificus, the Florida Department of Health in Lee County (DOH-Lee) stated that the pathogen lives in particularly warm seawater or brackish water, a term referring to the mixture of fresh and seawater.
“Vibrio vulnificus can invade the bloodstream, causing a severe life-threatening illness with symptoms like fever, chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions,” the report states.
Lee County, which includes both Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, is facing substantial flood damage in Ian’s wake, and the ideal conditions left for the organism pose a greater-than-average threat to those who may be exposed. The Category 4 storm made landfall late last month, dumping 17 inches of rain, collapsing part of the Sanibel Causeway, and leaving a death toll of over 100 people.
Sources say Lee County accounts for the majority of new Vibrio vulnificus cases, which “can cause an infection of the skin when open wounds are exposed to warm seawater.” Statewide cases have nearly doubled in number when compared to the years 2020 and 2021, reaching a 12-year high since the year 2008.
According to the Florida Department of Health’s website, 65 confirmed cases of Vibrio vulnificus have been reported this year, leading to 11 deaths. Of those, 29 cases and four deaths have come out of Lee County, a rise attributed to the effects of Hurricane Ian.
DOH-Lee recommends staying out of flood water, standing water, brackish water, or seawater whilst having an open wound, cut, or scratch. It is also recommended to “seek immediate medical care if a wound develops redness, swelling, or oozing, or other signs of infection such as fever, increasing pain, shortness of breath, fast or high heart rate, or confusion or disorientation.”