Florida Warns Beachgoers of Flesh-Eating Bacteria in the Water

Health officials in Florida today issued new warnings about high levels of a flesh-eating bacterium in the ocean and other recreational waters in the state. The state says that bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus, causes ulceration and rapid skin decay and is fatal in about 50 percent of people who get it in their bloodstreams.

Vibrio "has hospitalized 32 people, and killed ten in Florida, although through a period of years, not all at once," according to the state; however, another report today, focusing on one infected lagoon in South Florida, says there were "41 reported cases of infections from the deadly bacteria last year in Florida, which killed 11 people, including a 59-year old man infected while crabbing in the Halifax River near Ormond Beach."

According to the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, this shit is no joke:

"A person can contract the virus by eating tainted raw shell fish and oysters," Florida Department of Health Deputy Press Secretary Pamela Crane tells New Times. "And people who swim in seawater who have open wounds are also vulnerable to the bacteria."

The virus can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, but is especially dangerous with those with a weaker immune system, especially in people with chronic liver disease. Vibrio can get into the bloodstream and cause life-threatening illnesses. Symptoms include fever, chills, a drop in blood pressure and skin lesions...

So basically, if you have a weak immune system, or an open wound, best to avoid the water for now.

The state notes that Vibrio is naturally occurring and tends to flare up in the summer—not unlike other human-caused disease-causing bacteria and viruses (read: poop-related diseases) that have been found in massive concentrations along much of Florida's lightly-regulated coast this summer.

In one instance, a "no" swimming advisory was put into effect in North Florida for enterococci bacteria levels that were 30 times acceptable levels—far higher than the worst readings in the Gowanus Canal after Hurricane Sandy blew through. (The "no" is in quotes because swimming was discouraged but not banned.)

Florida doesn't typically require beach shutdowns for bacteria infestations; in fact, 59 percent of its beaches aren't tested for bacteria levels; the others rely on federal funding to carry out periodic tests. But hey, only the strong survive in a libertarian paradise!

[Photo credit: Shutterstock]