Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Don't touch that blob: Seaweed hitting Florida shores contains flesh-eating bacteria

 Seaweed hitting Florida beaches contains a fleshing-eating bacteria, vibrio.
Public Domain
Seaweed hitting Florida beaches contains a fleshing-eating bacteria, vibrio.

People are being warned after FAU researchers find that Vibrio bacteria is aggressively sticking to plastic particles in the Sargassum seaweed.

As the Sargassum seaweed blob continues washing up on Florida’s shores, residents and tourists are being warned to avoid it as it contains flesh-eating bacteria.

A Florida Atlantic University study found that the 5,000-mile-wide, debris-filled swath contains the flesh-eating bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus.

FAU researchers sequenced the genomes of 16 Vibrio cultivars isolated from eel larvae, plastic marine debris, Sargassum seaweed and seawater samples from the Caribbean and Sargasso seas of the North Atlantic Ocean. They learned Vibrio pathogens can "stick" to plastics and might be adapting to plastic.

The study was published in the journal Water Research.

“Plastic is a new element that’s been introduced into marine environments and has only been around for about 50 years,” said Tracy Mincer, corresponding lead author and an assistant professor of biology at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. “Our lab work showed that these Vibrio are extremely aggressive and can seek out and stick to plastic within minutes.”

The study has led to experts warning people to avoid touching water containing the seaweed or the seaweed itself as it can lead to an Vibrio infection. Symptoms include a skin rash, high fever and chills, vomiting, nausea and cramping.

Anyone with an open wound or cut that touches the seaweed or brackish water should wash it out with soap and water and contact a medical provider if a rash develops.

Most healthy people who are treated early, can recover from a mild Vibrio infection within three days.

Vibrio bacteria are found in waters around the world and are the dominant cause of death in humans from the marine environment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about one in five people die from a vibrio infection.

The brown seaweed has been washing up on Florida’s east coast beaches for months.

The global blob is supposed to get bigger at this time of year, but University of South Florida scientists reported this month that it actually got about 15 percent smaller from April to May.

Also of note, the May amounts of seaweed are less dense than those of the past two years.

“Sargassum amount in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to decrease in June, which is good news for many coastal residents of Florida,” USF’s Optical Oceanography Laboratory website stated.

Health News Florida's Rick Mayer contributed to this report.

Danielle Prieur