TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health advisory for worsening flesh-eating bacteria contaminations that are associated with warming coastal waters.
The bacteria, called Vibrio vulnificus, thrive in warmer waters and in low-salt environments.
According to the CDC, most people get Vibrio from eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters. An open wound can also be vulnerable to infection.
When hurricanes or storm surges impact coastal areas, the flooding that moves inland puts people at risk for Vibrio wound infections. The CDC said this was observed in 2022 after Hurricane Ian impacted the Fort Myers area.
People living in Gulf Coast states have reported the infections more commonly, especially in the summer months. In July 2023 and August 2023, the U.S. experienced above-average coastal sea temperatures and heat waves, which allowed this bacteria to flourish.
The CDC reports 15- to 200 people are infected each year.
“Typically, when we have lots of increased rainfall, we have our highest temperatures toward the end of the summer, beginning of the fall, we start to see these bacteria being more abundant, and we also start to see more infections,” Gabby Barbarite, with Florida Atlantic University, told NBC affiliate WESH.
Vibrio vulnificus must be treated immediately because it can be fatal, especially to those with weakened immune systems. Treatment includes antibiotic therapy and possibly surgical intervention.
To keep yourself safe, the CDC recommends staying out of saltwater or brackish water if you have an open wound. If an open wound is exposed to water, clean it thoroughly with soap and warm water and wear a waterproof bandage. It’s also recommended to cook shellfish before eating and to clean your hands afterward right away.