A county in the US state of Florida that was devastated by Hurricane Ian last month has seen a rise in cases of illness and death caused by meat-eating bacteria.
According to officials, Lee County — hit by the Category Four storm on Sept. 28 — has reported 29 cases and four deaths from the bacteria.
All but two cases were diagnosed after the hurricane passed.
Vibrio vulnificus infections can be caused after the bacteria enter the body through open wounds.
The bacterium lives in warm brackish water, such as standing flood water.
“The Florida Department of Health in Lee County is seeing an unusual increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections as a result of exposure to flooding and standing water following Hurricane Ian,” a spokesperson for the county health department said. on Monday (10/17).
The statement also urged residents to “always be aware of the potential risks associated with exposing open wounds, cuts or scrapes to the skin to hot brackish or salt water.”
“Sewage leaks, such as those caused by Hurricane Ian, can increase bacteria levels,” the text added.
“As the post-storm situation evolves, people should take precautions against infections and diseases caused by Vibrio vulnificus.”
Collier County, just south of Lee County, also reported three confirmed cases of the illness that officials say are related to the storm.
Clean-up efforts after the hurricane continue across Florida — Photo: GETTY IMAGES/via BBC
Across Florida, a record 11 deaths have been attributed to the bacteria this year, as well as a total of 65 cases, according to state health data. Authorities estimate that nearly half are related to Hurricane Ian.
In 2021, 10 deaths and 34 cases were recorded in the state, while seven deaths were attributed to the bacteria in 2020.
Vibrio vulnificus is known as a “flesh eater” because it can develop into necrotizing fasciitis, a condition that causes tissue to break down. It is not the only bacteria, however, that can cause necrotizing fasciitis.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five patients with Vibrio vulnificus dies — sometimes just a day or two after falling ill.
The bacteria can cause sepsis if it enters the bloodstream — and, in some cases, can lead to amputations to prevent spread to other parts of the patient’s body.
Infographic shows symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis — Photo: BBC