What Danger Lurks in the Lagoon

Vibrio vulnificus, the “flesh-eating bacteria”, is propagating in the warm waters of Florida. One case of infection in Brevard County has health officials urging the public to avoid exposure to inshore waters, away from the ocean, where the bacteria breeds. Last week, Volusia County issued a similar warning to tourists. The bacteria is most often found in warm, stagnant waters near freshwater drainages. It can’t tolerate salt levels over 2.5%. Heavy rains and large water releases can push the bacteria beyond its normal areas.

Florida has had 13 cases, and four people have died from the bacteria so far this year. In 2014, 120 people contracted the bacteria nationwide (average age of 60), and 21 people died. Florida had 45 cases last year and 14 deaths.

People need to practice good wound care to prevent infection. Wounds and sores need to be covered with clean, dry bandages until healed. Bacteria won’t decompose healthy, intact skin, even with long periods of exposure. Infection starts when bacteria comes in contact with open wounds, broken skin, or ingestion in large amounts. Most infections happen between May and October. Half of all infections are deadly when those with preexisting conditions eat contaminated seafood. Survival is much higher from a skin infection.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest want the FDA to require low-heat pasteurization for killing off the bacteria that won’t affect taste. Without increased food safety standards, they estimate 30 people will contract the disease and half will die from it.

There are things you can do to prevent contracting the flesh-eating bacteria from seafood. Don’t eat raw oysters or other shellfish – cook everything. Boil shellfish until they open and then another five minutes. Boil shucked oysters at least 3 minutes or fry 10 minutes. Don’t mix cooked seafood with uncooked in preparation areas. Eat shellfish promptly and refrigerate leftovers. Wear gloves when handling raw shellfish, avoiding any exposure to open wounds or broken skin.

Waymer, Jim. “How to avoid deadly flesh-eating bacteria.” News. USA Today, 15 Jul 2016. Web. 17 Jul 2016.

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