BREVARD COUNTY, Florida – A recent, tragic death that occurred in Volusia County has brought forth concerns of the flesh-eating bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus – a bacterium that normally lives in warm seawater.
Vibrio vulnificus can cause disease in those who eat contaminated seafood or have an open wound that is exposed to warm seawater containing the bacteria. Ingestion of Vibrio vulnificus can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Vibrio vulnificus can also cause an infection of the skin when open wounds are exposed to warm seawater; these infections may lead to skin breakdown and ulcers.
Persons who have weakened immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease, are at risk for Vibrio vulnificus infection when they eat raw shellfish, particularly oysters in that oysters filter the bacteria from the water. People with these pre-existing medical conditions are 80 times more likely to develop Vibrio vulnificus blood infections than healthy people.
“Vibrio vulnificus bacteria naturally live in the river," County Health Department Director, Heidar Heshmati, MD, said. "Every year we have a few cases of infection in humans due to water exposure. People should be aware of their risk. Boating and other sporting activities in the Indian River Lagoon are fine. However, I recommend people not eat raw seafood and/or expose their self to the lagoon water if they have an open wound, especially if they have liver or immune system problems.”
Health officials offer the following tips for preventing Vibrio vulnificus infections include:
- Do not eat raw oysters or other raw shellfish.
- Cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly.
- For shellfish in the shell, either a) boil until the shells open and continue boiling for 5 more minutes, or b) steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for 9 more minutes. Do not eat those shellfish that do not open during cooking. Boil shucked oysters at least 3 minutes, or fry them in oil at least 10 minutes at 375 degrees F.
- Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.
- Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
- Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters.
- Wear protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish.