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Fatal Vibrio Case Reported In Escambia County

James Gathany (PHIL #7815) - Obtained from the CDC Public Health Image Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

An Escambia County resident has died after reportedly contracting Vibrio vulnificus – a bacteria found in warm, brackish saltwater.

The victim’s identity is not being released by the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County, and circumstances surrounding the death are also unavailable. DOH reports 19 such cases in Florida this year, with ten deaths. One of those cases – non-fatal – was reported in Santa Rosa County.

“Vibrio can be a serious disease, and even lead to death; but if you take proper precautions, your risk should be minimal,” said Dr. Carina Blackmore, Deputy State Epidemiologist.

“People get Vibrio by swimming, wading, and playing in salt or brackish waters with open wounds or scratches,” Blackmore said. “Or by eating undercooked or raw shellfish, particularly oysters.”

As the Florida numbers show, Vibrio doesn’t occur very often but when it does, it cannot be ignored. Blackmore says there are some effective ways to protect yourself from infection. 

“You do that by covering the wounds with dry, clean bandages until they’re healed,” Blackmore says. “You also want to protect yourself by cooking shellfish thoroughly.”

“Thoroughly” means boiling them until the shells open and then for another five minutes; steaming them until they open, then for nine more minutes. Do not eat shellfish that don’t open. Shucked oysters can be fried at 375 degrees for at least three minutes.

Those with pre-existing medical conditions – such as a compromised immune system or liver disease – are especially susceptible to Vibrio and a bloodstream infection it can cause.

Doctors can diagnose Vibrio through blood and stool samples, or through wound tissue. Blackmore says it’s also important for doctors to notify the lab when they’re considering such a diagnosis.

“The lab can then do testing that is specific to Vibrio, and can provide a more accurate diagnosis,” Blackmore says. “Vibrio is treated by antibiotics, and it’s important to start that early.”

If there’s any silver lining to this: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Vibrio vulnificus infection is an acute illness, and those who recover should not expect any long-term consequences.

More information can be found at www.cdc.gov.