Florida DOH warns against possible bacteria in Gulf waters

The Florida Department of Health urged Floridians with health conditions on Tuesday to avoid exposing open wounds to seawater or eating raw oysters because the individuals could become infected with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.

The department said that individuals with liver damage from excessive drinking or liver disease, such as cirrhosis and hepatitis C, are most at risk for developing serious illness from the bacteria. Vibrio vulnificus occurs naturally in the warm waters of the Gulf coast, especially during the summer months, and can cause serious illness.

Other at-risk Floridians are individuals with hemochromatosis, stomach disorders, cancer, diabetes and other immunocompromising illnesses. At-risk individuals are more likely to become ill or die from eating raw oysters with the bacteria. Such individuals can become seriously ill if they have scratches, cuts or wounds and wade in seawater or estuarine areas where the bacteria might be present. Other individuals without the conditions can also become ill, but their illnesses are usually less severe.

Vibrio vulnificus wound infection symptoms include pain, swelling and redness at the wound site. Wound infections and gastrointestinal infections can lead to blistering skin lesions, chills, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea.

The Florida DOH reported several illnesses attributed to Vibrio vulnificus infection this year in Florida. The department recommends thoroughly cooking oysters or consuming raw oysters that went through a post-harvest treatment process to eliminate bacteria. The DOH also recommends avoiding exposure of open wounds to estuarine water and seawater to reduce the chance of infections.