Hurricane Ian: ‘Flesh-Eating’ Bacteria From Floodwaters Cause Spike in Infections

by Samantha Whidden
(Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

Nearly a month after Hurricane Ian hit the southeast portion of Florida, it’s been reported that the Sunshine State’s Lee County is seeing a spike in deathly infections caused by flesh-eating bacteria from floodwaters. 

According to CBS News, Lee County officials say storm surges and subsequent flooding caused by Hurricane Ian have led to a slide in infections caused by Vibrio vulnificus. This is notably a species of bacteria that is found in warm, brackish water. Humans usually come in contact with this kind of bacteria through raw or undercooked seafood. It enters the body through cuts and other open wounds. This in return can cause skin sections that may be life-threatening. 

Hours after Hurricane Ian went through the area, Lee County Health Department issued a warning about the bacteria. The agency said that whether the infection is acquired through food or direct contact with contaminated water has the potential to cause severe illness or even death. At least 29 cases and four deaths have been confirmed in Lee County this year alone. All but two cases were diagnosed after the hurricane. 

Health Officials Issue Bacteria Warning Following Hurricane Ian

A spokesperson from the Lee County Health Department issued a statement to CBS News. “The Florida Department of Health in Lee County is observing an abnormal increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infection as a result of exposure to the flood waters and standing waters following Hurricane Ian.”

The officials also state that community members should always be aware of the potential risks associated with flood waters. The community should take caution when exposing open wounds, cuts, or scratches on skin to warn, brackish, or salt water. “Sewage spills, like those caused by Hurricane Ian, may increase bacterial levels,” the health department explained. “As the post-storm situation evolves individuals should take precautions against infection and illness caused by Vibrio vulnificus. 

The health department further explained that those with weakened immune systems, especially those suffering from chronic liver disease or taking immunosuppressant medication, are at particular risk of developing serious complications from an infection. If it enters the bloodstream, the bacteria may cause sepsis. This happens when an infection triggers an extreme immune response that leads to organ failure. 

“Water and wounds do not mix. Do not enter the water if you have fresh cuts or scrapes,” the health department further observed. If there is a need to go out into the water, it is noted that everyone should wear proper foot protection to prevent cuts and injury. Other Florida counties that have experienced cases of Vibrio vulnificus include Bay, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, Escambia, and Okaloosa. There have been 11 deaths from the bacterial infections in 2022. Last year, there were 10 deaths.