Health officials in Florida are warning residents and tourists alike that a “rare” form of flesh-eating, potentially deadly bacteria has made its way to Florida beaches, having been activated by the warmer weather.
The Vibrio vulnificus bacterium grows fastest in warm saltwater and it “has already infected at least seven people and killed two this year in Florida,” according to ABC News. The Florida state health department said there have been 32 cases in the past 12 months. According to the state health department, a spike in cases occurs in May-October when water is the warmest.
Florida counties where there have been confirmed cases of Vibrio in 2015 include Brevard (1 death), Broward, Duval, Marion (1 death), Pasco, Santa Rosa and St.Lucie.
Consuming or handling raw shellfish and swimming in warm saltwater areas can put people at risk, Florida Health Department spokeswoman Mara Burger said.
“People with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater,” she said.
The bacterial infection can cause gastroenteritis, sepsis and can lead to amputations, ABC News reports.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following precautions to avoid Vibrio vulnificus infections:
Avoid exposing open wounds to warm saltwater, brackish water or to raw shellfish
Wear protective clothing when handling raw shellfish
Cook shellfish thoroughly and avoid food contamination with juices from raw seafood
Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.