The Florida Department of Health (FLDOH) reported yesterday a fatal case of Vibrio vulnificus infection in Hillsborough County on the state’s west coast. This represents the third V. vulnificus-related death in the state and the ninth case of 2015.

Hillsborough County, Florida Image/David Benbennick
Hillsborough County, Florida
Image/David Benbennick

Last year, Hillsborough County saw three cases and no fatalities. Statewide, there were 32 cases and 7 deaths reported in Florida in 2014.

According to the FLDOH, people can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus when they eat raw shellfish, particularly oysters. The bacterium is frequently isolated from oysters and other shellfish in warm coastal waters during the summer months. Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of Vibrio vulnificus.

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. Wound infections may also be serious in people with weakened immune systems. The wound may heal poorly and require surgery. Sometimes amputation may even be needed for recovery.

Related: Florida reports Vibrio vulnificus deaths in Brevard and Marion counties