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Hurricane Ian whips up the incidence of a serious bacterial infection


The Florida Department of Health reports 28 cases and six deaths in Lee County from vibrio vulnificus, a bacterial infection that thrives in warm, brackish water.

Vibrio vulnificus is an infection that is dramatically on the rise since Hurricane Ian hit the gulf coast of Florida late last month. It’s a bacterial infection that can turn very bad very quickly. It occurs naturally and thrives in warm, brackish water, which many of us were surrounded by as we cleaned up the storm’s damage.

So far this year, the Florida Department of Health reports 28 cases and 6 deaths in Lee county, where the hurricane hit hardest, and 3 cases in nearby Collier county.

Dr. Corin DeChirico is Chief Medical Officer of Healthcare Network and an internal medicine specialist. She says that the two ways to become infected with vibrio vulnificus are by eating undercooked seafood, or through an open wound. Those at highest risk are immune-compromised people or those on medications that decrease stomach acid.

To avoid the infection, stay out of the water, she recommends, especially now that the bacteria level is very high.

“I’m advising people not to go swimming at the beach. Stay out of beach water, stay out of brackish water of the rivers right now that have been mixed with the sea water because the levels are high,” says Dr. DeChirico.

If you do get water in an open wound or on a new tattoo or piercing, wash it thoroughly with soap and water.

And if you start to show signs of an infection, like pain, redness, or heat, do seek medical help right away. This is an infection that can cause flesh-eating syndrome and can turn deadly very quickly.

“I want people to have a high index of suspicion if they start having any kind of GI symptoms like watery diarrhea, nauseousness, vomiting, any fever, chills, if they have a wound and it starts getting red and hot, they need to be seen. They should not take no for an answer,” Dr. DeChirico said.

Check your local counties here.

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Cary Barbor