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Florida state health officials have reported 23 Vibrio vulnificus cases in 2017 through mid-September and of this total, five cases have been seen in the Tampa Bay area. Cases of the bacterial infection have been recorded in Hillsborough (2), Pinellas (1), Pasco (1) and Polk (1) counties. No deaths have been seen in the region.


Of the 23 cases statewide, three deaths have been recorded–one each in Santa Rosa, Orange and Brevard Counties.

Last year, Florida reported 46 cases, including 10 deaths.

LISTEN: Vibrio vulnificus: An interview with Dr Judy Stone

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.

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 vulnificusbloodstream 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.