Is it true there is a flesh eating bacteria lurking in our Florida ocean water? Indeed there is. The flesh eating bacteria, known to the medical world as vibrio vulnificus, is a bacteria that habitats in warm salt water. According to the Florida Department of Health, 13 people were infected with vibrio vulnificus bacteria this year, with three cases turning fatal. Are we no longer safe to swim in the ocean? How do we protect ourselves from these bacteria?
Vibrio vulnificus infects humans who have open cuts and wounds that swim in the contaminated water. It can also enter our bodies through consuming raw or undercooked shellfish like oysters. The bacteria cause symptoms in its victims like diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting (all common symptoms of other food poisoning bacteria). It becomes life threatening when a person has liver problems or compromised immune system. In theses cases, the bacteria can change to necrotizing fasciitis that attacks the body’s soft tissue, a layer of connective tissue below the skin. Purplish rashes, fever, and blisters filled with liquid quickly appear within days of infection resulting in amputations and death if not treated right away.
It is still relatively safe to swim in the Florida ocean waters. The Florida visitor’s website estimate 75 million people visit Florida each year. Add to the mix Florida’s 17 million permanent residents to the visitor count and one could determine that millions of people visit the beaches of Florida each year. If only 13 people out of millions were infected with these bacteria the probability of you catching the bacteria is less than 1%, actually far less than 1%. The probability of being bit by a shark in Florida is greater than becoming infected with the bacteria. In 2014, sharks attacked 17 people in Florida.
Is the salt water safe to swim in, in Florida? It is as safe as it has always been. The Florida Department of Health though does caution to be smart about it. They recommend not entering the water if you have a cut or wound that is still healing and to avoid eating raw shellfish. They also recommend showering off the salt water at the public beach bathhouses before venturing home.
“Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.” WebMD. Accessed October 13, 2014.
“Health Officials: Don’t Call Vibrio Vulnificus ‘flesh Eating Bacteria'” Health Officials: Don’t Call Vibrio Vulnificus ‘flesh Eating Bacteria’ August 4, 2014. Accessed October 13, 2014.