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Flesh-Eating Bacteria Found in Florida Beach, Health Officials Issue Warning: 'Be Very Careful'

( [email protected] ) Jul 31, 2014 02:22 AM EDT
Florida health officials are warning beachgoers about a seawater bacterium that can invade cuts and scrapes to cause flesh-eating disease.
Vibrio vulnificus has been found in the Florida ocean

Health officials in Florida have issued a warning to beach-loving vacationers: be very careful when in the water.

This warning was issued due to a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus, a cousin of the bacterium that causes Cholera, which has been found in the ocean bordering Florida.

"Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater," the Florida Department of Health said in a statement.

So far, 32 people have contracted the bacteria and 10 have died from the strain, reports the Florida Department of Health. Last year, 41 people were infected and 11 died. Florida isn't the only state to report Vibrio vulnificus infections. Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi have also recorded cases.

If ingested the bacteria can cause symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, but if it infects an open wound the effects can be more gruesome. This type of skin infection is characterized by "skin breakdown and ulcerations," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ABC News reported. The infection can also be acquired from eating raw shellfish.

"It's quite discouraging because the beach is one of the more popular hobbies in Florida," said Tracy Brown of West Palm Beach.

Florida Department of Health experts said anyone with a compromised immune system or anyone with an open cut should not go into the water, and those who swim in the ocean should wash off immediately after.

"It's scary," said Julie Meyers, who is vacationing in Florida with her daughter. "it's the last thing you expect to hear when you're vacationing with your family."

Steve Gyland, owner of Cod and Cappers Fish Market, is a survivor of the Vibrio virus and encourages beach-goers to be careful.

"It was like you were on fire. Like a burn-blister from a fire. It was weeks before I could walk on that leg," said Gyland.

Gyland contracted the virus through a blister on his left foot while on a scuba diving trip to the Bahamas.

"You could just watch the red, blistery skin just grow and expand and move up your leg," said Gyland, adding that if he had waited, the infection would have gotten much worse.

Regardless, Gyland , who sells raw oysters at his shop-an item the state health department warns is a leading cause of contracting the Vibrio bacteria.

"If we eat raw foods, there's always a risk, absolutely there's a risk," said Gyland.

However, Gyland makes sure warnings are posted all over his store and says people who are worried should buy oysters from cooler climates to the north.

Currently, the state health department is monitoring the situation and is telling consumers to cook their oysters before eating the shellfish