By: Pooja Sharma

Vibrio Vulnificus infections are spreading in Florida. Since September 21, 2017, there have been an additional 18 cases reported in the state. This makes the case count for the entire year of 2017 to 41. There have been 2 deaths in the past two months because of the outbreak – one in St. John County and another one in Monroe County. This seawater-loving bacteria has now claimed a total of 7 lives in 2017. With the hurricanes’ after effects still in place, the rate of infections doesn’t seem to go down.

Here is a total breakdown of all the cases that have been reported in Florida: (County-Wise)

County Number of Cases
Collier County 5 , 1 Death
Lee County 4 , 1 Death
Brevard County 3 , 1 Death
Hillsborough County 3
Sumter County 3
Charlotte County 2
Citrus County 2
Duval County 2
Escambia County 2
Manatti County 2
Pinellas County 2
Santa Rosa County 2 , 1 Death
Volusia County 2
Monroe County 1 , 1 Death
Nassau County 1
Okaloosa County 1
Orange County 1 , 1 Death
Pasco County 1
Polk County 1
St. John’s County 1 , 1 Death
TOTAL 41 , 7 Deaths

In 2016, there were a total of 46 cases and 10 deaths. Collier County, which reports the highest number of cases this year including 1 death, had just 1 case last year with no deaths. The counties that reported highest number of cases last year were as follows: Duval, Brevard, Palm Beach, Santa Rosa, and Sarasota. Santa Rosa had 2 deaths out of 10 total deaths. It has now reported a total of 1 death in 2017. The numbers continue to be staggering.

In 2015, the reported number of cases of Vibrio Vulnificus were 45, but the death count was 14. The maximum deaths occurred in Hillsborough county, Duval county and Brevard county.

Considering the number of cases that have been reported from different counties previously, there hasn’t been a single county that has been more affected than the other. The numbers differ every year, so it’s quite difficult to put control measures in just one county.

This bacteria can be particularly dangerous now because of the flood waters that still linger around in the cities in Florida. The floodwaters reached a record breaking 60 inches this time. Vibrio bacteria generally lives in the ocean but can cause infection in humans when it comes in contact with open water through open cut or wound or eating raw or undercooked seafood that contains Vibrio. Since hurricane waters swept a lot of seawater into the counties of Florida, there is a very high chance for numbers of Vibrio infections to rise now.

What you need to know about the bacteria?

Vibrio Vulnificus is a very serious, and sometimes deadly, infection. Its incidence has been increasing in the past years mostly in developed countries like United States of America. It’s responsible for majority of the seafood-related deaths that occur in the United States. As it is usually present in seawater, most victims become infected by swimming in the ocean or eating seafood.

The bacteria is halophilic – species that requires around 7-10% of sodium chloride (or salt) in water for growth and survival. They can, however, grow best in 3% of Sodium Chloride. Because of this characteristic, they are termed “seawater bacteria.” They are also found in sewage and seafood. The bacteria also grows quite rapidly in warmer temperatures. This is why Vibrio infections are quite common in summertime. But that does not mean they are completely on the decline.

Symptoms of Vibrio infection:

  • Most symptoms are quite common like vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever.
  • Some severe symptoms that can develop (more common in those with compromised immune system) are sepsis and skin lesions. Once the bacteria enters the body it can rapidly penetrate the tissues and can cause skin redness, pain, tenderness and sometimes, blisters.

Symptoms generally do not develop immediately and shows up after 1-3 days.

What are some tips for preventing Vibrio infection?

  • Hurricane flooding victims should drain out all the hurricane water in their homes and on their properties. Everything that has come in contact with hurricane water must be cleaned. This includes: clothes, shoes, house objects – all things that you can throw away. The stuff which you can’t throw away should be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectants. Also, make sure that you have cleaned and bleached your overhead tanks. If you are suspicious about any waters lying around outside your house, go ahead and inform the state authorities or take the initiative and do it yourself! Vibrio can spread through coming in contact with open wounds very easily, so it’s crucial that flood waters have been taken care of right away.
  • Do not eat raw oysters, shellfish, or any other raw seafood – especially during warmer months. This is because 75% of Vibrio cases are spread through seafood.
  • If you are eating oysters or shellfish at a restaurant, it is best to order ones that are thoroughly cooked.
  • If you are cooking shellfish at home, boil until the shell comes off. Continue boiling for 5 additional minutes. Don’t eat shellfish that doesn’t open, as they may not be safe. For shucked oysters, boil them for 3 minutes or fry/cook them for 10 minutes at 375℉.
  • If you have an open wound, completely avoid coming in contact with seawater. You should also take care of the wound and practice good hygiene until the wound is healed.

People with weakened immune function, small children, elderly people, and pregnant women are all more at risk if they catch the infection. They can develop severe symptoms rapidly and need immediate medical care. If you are among this high risk group of people, it’s crucial that you adhere to the safety tips to avoid long term complications.

Vibrio infections are generally best treated by antibiotics. The patient might have to get hospitalized depending on the severity of the infection he has developed. If, at any time you develop symptoms that are related to Vibrio, immediate medical attention is highly recommended.

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