Spike in flesh-eating bacteria cases concerning Floridians

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

In the last 30 years, infections caused by the bacteria vibrio have spiked more than 500% across Florida.

The worst of those vibrio, better known as flesh-eating bacteria, kills one in five people infected.

Many conditions contribute to vibrio, like rainfall, warm water, phytoplankton and more. What differentiates the east and west coasts of Florida is the west coast has more of what the bacteria thrive on.

“They’re not culturable, meaning that we really can’t detect them that easily,” said Dr. Antar Jutla, a professor from the University of Florida.

But a month after Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida, Jutla and his team from UF found vibrio, the flesh-eating kind, in almost every sample off Pine Island.

“This whole process of easiness in detection was surprising to us,” said Jutla.

As a lifelong Floridian, when Robert Luzarrage takes his grandson on the water, he knows the risk.

“I know that every year people die from flesh-eating bacteria, if you’ve got a wound or something that gets it infected, so that’s concerning,” said Luzarraga.

In the month after Hurricane Ian, 38 people were infected, with 11 people dying from the bacteria in Lee County.

We know this bacteria flares up after a tropical storm or hurricane, but what’s your everyday risk?

Assistant Professor of Medicine Norman Beatty says on the Gulf Coast, it’s important to note risk changes with location. Near an estuary with oyster beds, that risk increases.

“Those that are closer to the actual gulf itself with higher salinity, you may, you might, you may find, you know, less risk there,” said Beatty.

Most importantly, Beatty said, watch your cuts and scrapes because the flesh-eating bacteria can enter your body through something as small as a bug bite.

Beatty also told WINK News cases increase during spring and summer when the water is warmer. However, cases could also be up because more people are in the water during spring and summer.

Determining the seasonality for the bacteria is what Jutla and his team are working to answer now.

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