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Flesh-Eating Bacteria Cases Not A 'Harbinger,' Doc Says

Vibrio vulnificus is one type of bacteria found in Florida.
Vibrio vulnificus is one type of bacteria found in Florida.

It’s beach season, and a potentially deadly, flesh-eating bacteria is making headlines. It’s called vibrio vulnificus.

So far, seven people have died from Vibrio this year, including one death each in Brevard and Lake counties. Florida so far has tied the 2014 deaths with six months left in the year.

If that sounds scary, keep in mind, Florida will typically see anywhere from six to 15 deaths per year from vibrio. For a bit of scale, Florida will usually have as many boating deaths in the month of July as vibrio deaths in the entire year.

“This is not the end of the world, this isn’t, like, one of the harbingers," said Dr. Consuelo Beck-Sague, a public health professor at Florida International University. “But at the same time something that’s preventable and that can occasionally be fatal should not be taken in a casual way.”

Vibrio is found in warm, salty waters. So ocean beaches are a possibility, but the bacteria particularly likes brackish water, where salt and freshwater combine. The gulf coast is also a hot zone, but every single county in Florida has reported a case in the last two years.

So, to refresh: Don’t swim with an open cut. Don’t eat raw shellfish. And especially don’t do those things if you’re elderly, a child or have a less-than-stellar immune system.

Vibrio responds well to antibiotics, if caught soon enough. So if you have a painful rash that spreads quickly, seriously: Go see a doctor.