Five people in the Tampa region have died from 'flesh-eating' Vibrio in 2023
The health department says 26 cases of Vibrio vulnificus have been confirmed statewide this year, with two deaths in Hillsborough County, and one each in Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties.
Five people in the greater Tampa Bay region have died this year because of the so-called “flesh-eating” bacterium found in warm, brackish seawater and undercooked seafood.
The Florida Department of Health said this past week that 26 cases of Vibrio vulnificus were reported in the state so far in 2023, with two deaths in Hillsborough County, and one each in Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties.
In 2022, there were 74 cases and 17 deaths, most related to Hurricane Ian floodwaters in Lee County. In 2021, there were 34 cases and 10 deaths in Florida, and in 2020 there were 36 cases and seven cases.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported two Vibrio deaths in Connecticut and one in New York this year.
The CDC says that Vibrio vulnificus lives in warm seawater and is a type of foodborne illness-causing bacteria called "halophilic" because it requires salt to survive.
Severe illness from Vibrio vulnificus infections is rare. However, if not treated early, it can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, which destroys tissue under the skin and can lead to death within days.
People become infected by consuming raw or undercooked seafood or exposing an open wound to seawater. Most infections occur from May through October when water temperatures are warmer. This summer, Florida has recorded unprecedented high temperatures in surrounding waters.
Symptoms of the infection 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.
In June, a published study from Florida Atlantic University found that the debris-filled Sargassum seaweed contained the bacterium. They reported that pathogens "stick" to plastics and might be adapting to plastic. Experts warned people to avoid the seaweed in beach water.
Health officials warn that people with open wounds, fresh cuts or scrapes, to not enter seawater.
Also, individuals who are immunocompromised should wear proper foot protection to prevent cuts and injury caused by rocks and shells on the beach.