Deadly Bacteria Hit Florida Beaches

B. McPherson
The warm waters of Florida have been hiding a tiny killer. A bacterium that belongs to the same family that causes cholera has claimed nine victims this year and sickened another 26. Vibrio vulnificus thrives in warm sea water. By the end of summer it can exist in sea water in numbers great enough to threaten even the healthy.

The bacterium can enter the body through open cuts. Health officials are warning residents of the US Gulf states to stay out of the water if they have open wounds. We many not notice a small scratch or cut that is an open portal to this organism. Health officials are also advising people to wear gloves when handling sea food gathered from the warm waters. The latest victim Henry Konietzky, was gathering crabs when he believed infected. He was struck down and killed within 24 hours of infection in spite of the best efforts of medical staff. He had no outstanding health issues. Those with outstanding health issues are in greater danger of septic shock.

People can also become infected when they ingest raw or undercooked shellfish. Shellfish are filter feeds and can concentrate the number of bacteria in their guts.

The consequences of infection can range from vomiting and diarrhea, limb amputation to death. The infection can be fought with a range of antibiotics.

The CDC now monitors cases caused by the Vibrio family.

To prevent infection by this nasty family avoid warm salty or brackish water if you have any compromised skin. If you gather oysters and other shellfish, including crustaceans use gloves when handling them. Most have rough exteriors for defense that can cause small hard to detect cuts. Only eat cooked shellfish gathered from water free from fecal contamination.

Years ago a valid rule that we could live by was to only gather shellfish in months with an R in them. That automatically eliminates the warm, summer months. That rule no longer applies as the ocean environments are changing. Global warming combined with increased nutrient run off from sewage and agriculture have furnished many microbes with more food to increase their populations.

 Ocean water are teeming with microscopic life. Viruses, bacteria, larvae, spores all contribute to the rich life of the sea. Vibrios belong to a large family. Not all cause disease in humans.

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