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Hurricane Ian whips up the incidence of a serious bacterial infection


The Florida Department of Health reports 28 cases and six deaths in Lee County from Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterial infection that thrives in warm, brackish water.

The bacterial infection Viibrio vulnificus is dramatically on the rise in Southwest Florida since Hurricane Ian hit the region in September.

The infection that can cause flesh-eating syndrome and turn deadly very quickly.

This year, the Florida Department of Healthreports 28 cases and six deaths in Lee County, where the hurricane hit hardest, and three cases in Collier County.

The bacterium occurs naturally and thrives in warm, brackish water, which many people in the area were in contact with during storm cleanup. Ian brought more than 17 inches of rain over Southwest Florida, with storm surges of up to 12 feet.

Dr. Corin DeChirico, chief medical officer with Healthcare Network and an internal medicine specialist, says the two ways to become infected with Vibrio vulnificus are by eating undercooked seafood or through an open wound. Those at highest risk are immune-compromised people or those on medications that decrease stomach acid.

To avoid the infection, stay out of the water, she recommends, especially now that the bacteria level is very high.

“I’m advising people not to go swimming at the beach. Stay out of beach water, stay out of brackish water of the rivers right now that have been mixed with the sea water because the levels are high,” says DeChirico.

If you do get water in an open wound or on a new tattoo or piercing, wash it thoroughly with soap and water.

And if you start to show signs of an infection, like pain, redness or heat, seek medical help right away. This is an infection that can cause flesh-eating syndrome and turn deadly very quickly.

“I want people to have a high index of suspicion if they start having any kind of GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms like watery diarrhea, nauseousness, vomiting any fever, chills, if they have a wound and it starts getting red and hot, they need to be seen. They should not take no for an answer,” DeChirico said.

Click here for county updates and more information on Vibrio vulnificus from the Florida Department of Health.

Cary Barbor is the local host of All Things Considered and a reporter for WGCU. She was a producer for Martha Stewart Radio on Sirius XM, where she hosted a live interview show with authors of new books called Books and Authors. She was a producer for The Leonard Lopate Show, a live, daily show that covered arts, culture, politics, and food on New York City’s public radio station WNYC. She also worked as a producer on Studio 360, a weekly culture magazine; and The Sunday Long Read, a show that features in-depth conversations with journalists and other writers. She has filed stories for The Pulse and Here & Now. In addition to radio, she has a career writing for magazines, including Salon, Teen Vogue, New York, Health, and More. She has published short stories and personal essays and is always working on a novel. She was a Knight Journalism Fellow, where she studied health reporting at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and followed epidemiologists around Kenya and Alaska. She has a B.A. in English from Lafayette College and an M.A. in Literature from the University of Massachusetts.