According to data from the Florida Department of Health, five individuals have lost their lives to flesh-eating bacteria this year. This deadly infection, known as Vibrio vulnificus or necrotizing fasciitis, leads to painful swelling and blisters around a wound site. It is often contracted in seawater when an individual has an open wound.
Medical experts consider this aggressive infection somewhat rare, as it can originate from different bacterial strains. The warm summer waters in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico provide ideal conditions for the bacteria to thrive.
Symptoms of this infection include flu-like sensations such as fever, dizziness, and cold sweats, which can appear rapidly. Severe complications are common, including sepsis, shock, and organ failure. Unfortunately, even with treatment, one in three patients succumbs to necrotizing fasciitis, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2010, the agency has documented an annual occurrence of 700 to 1,200 cases of the infection in the United States.
This year, Florida has reported 26 cases, a decline from the 74 cases in the previous year. Seventeen people lost their lives to the infection in Florida in 2022. The five reported deaths this year occurred in Sarasota, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Polk counties, according to data from the Department of Health.
Contrary to common belief, individuals don’t necessarily have to be in the water to contract this infection, although it remains the most frequent source of exposure. For instance, one man in Tampa Bay contracted the bacteria from a human bite. Most healthy adults can fend off a necrotizing fasciitis infection without intensive hospital care. However, the elderly, children and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible, especially if they have open wounds or lesions.
The simplest preventive measure is regular handwashing. Additionally, avoiding warm saltwater or brackish water, hot tubs, swimming pools, and consuming raw seafood like crab, oysters, or sushi can significantly reduce the risk of infection.