Florida Warns of Dangerous ‘Flesh-Eating’ Bacteria in Aftermath of Hurricane Ian

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: NurPhoto / Contributor

Following Hurricane Ian’s devastation, Florida officials now warn people of another threat. Last month, the category four hurricane ripped through the sunshine state, leaving brutal destruction and over 100 people dead. In its aftermath, Floridians now have to worry about building back their towns, threats of red tide, and now flesh-eating bacteria. 

Officials in one of the Florida counties recovering from the hurricane now warn about a potentially deadly microbe. Also known informally as a flesh-eating bacteria, it’s infected 29 people and killed four as of Friday. 

The bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, which lives in warm, salty waters, can spread when there is flooding. According to the Lee department of public health, it can also make its way into the body via direct contact with an open wound. It can lead to skin problems, ulcers, and sometimes even death. 

“The Florida Department of Health in Lee County is seeing an odd increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections as a result of exposure to the flood waters and standing waters following Hurricane Ian,” an official at the county health department said on Monday.

The statement warned people to “always be aware of the potential risks associated when exposing open wounds, cuts, or scratches on the skin to warm, brackish, or salt water.”

“Sewage spills, like those caused by Hurricane Ian, may increase bacteria levels,” the statement continued. “As the post-storm situation evolves, individuals should take precautions against infection and illness caused by Vibrio vulnificus.”

However, the Fort Myers News-Press reported that healthy people usually recover with mild symptoms. 

Cases of flesh-eating bacteria nearly as high as those reported across the entire state in 2021

On Florida’s west coast in Lee county, doctors have seen an “abnormal increase due to the impact of Hurricane Ian,” per state health officials. John Cassani, who works with Calusa Waterkeeper, a group that protects local waters, said the current count was “off the charts.”

The cases in Lee county is almost as high as the total number reported across the entire state last year. That year the state saw 34 cases causing in ten deaths. 

In addition, when Hurricane Irma caused severe flooding in 2017, there were 50 cases reported statewide and 11 deaths. 

Earlier in October, the Lee county health department urged Floridians to take steps to avoid being exposed to the bacteria. The department urged that those with open wounds stay away from salty water. They also urged that people clean and monitor open wounds if they come into contact with flood water.

South of Lee county in Collier county has also reported three cases of the bacteria. State officials also said it was a result of Hurricane Ian. 

Florida officials have confirmed 65 cases and 11 deaths from the bacteria as of Friday.