Fla. health officials urge precautions after recent flesh-eating bacteria infections

Flesh-eating bacteria infections have been reported across the Gulf Coast this summer, and with recent deaths in Florida and Mississippi, health officials are renewing their warnings about the threat.

The bacteria, officially known as Vibrio vulnificus, thrives in warm saltwater.

On Thursday, groups of beach-goers in Bay St. Louis didn't seem fazed.

"I'm not going to stop going to the beach. Just like when they've been showing all the hammerheads and sharks. That's not making me stop going to the beach. I'm just going to be more careful," said Metairie resident Karen Meyer.

Roy Burke of Long Beach, Miss., agreed.

"I'm personally not concerned," he said. "I don't go in the water a lot, but I mean, I don't have a weakened immune system that I know of."

That's a point often stressed by health officials: People with immune deficiencies are most at risk for the bacteria that enters the body through open wounds. Infections can also be brought on by eating raw shellfish, particularly, oysters.

Louisiana health officials point out, Vibrio is nothing new, as cases are reported across the Gulf Coast each year. They say the situation shouldn't cause alarm, although people who plan to swim or fish in saltwater areas need to take precautions.

"What they need to do is to watch the cut that they have, and as soon as signs they are infected, go get immediate medical attention," said Dr. Raoult Ratard, epidemiologist with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Louisiana has seen three cases so far this year. In Mississippi, officials have confirmed eight cases, with one death.

Florida's numbers are the highest, but it's important to note that state also has far more daily beach visitors compared to other points along the Gulf Coast, officials said. However, with two deaths in Florida already this summer, following 11 deaths last year, it's an ongoing concern for many.

Jake Ahlers, a resident of Manatee County, Fla., survived a scare of his own recently, when a Vibrio infection spread from a cut in his foot.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking, knowing that some flesh-eating disease was in my body," he said. "When I found out what it was, I was really scared."

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