An individual from Putnam County, between the cities of St Augustine and Gainesville in northeastern Florida, is the eighth death reported in the state this year due to Vibrio vulnificus infection, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Image/David Benbennick
Image/David Benbennick

In addition to Putnam County, fatalities have been reported in Broward, Citrus, Lake, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Santa Rosa and Sarasota counties.

In addition, four additional cases were reported in the past week, bringing the case tally in 2016 to date to 40. Last year, Florida saw 45 cases and 14 deaths, the most since 2003.

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.

Healthy individuals typically develop a mild disease; however, Vibrio vulnificus infections can be a serious concern for people who have weakened immune systems, particularly those with chronic liver disease.

The bacterium can invade the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness with symptoms like fever, chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock) and blistering skin lesions. Vibrio vulnificus bloodstream infections are fatal about 50 percent of the time. A recent study showed that people with these pre-existing medical conditions were 80 times more likely to develop Vibrio vulnificus bloodstream infections than healthy people.