Deadly bacteria spreads in Florida after Hurricane Ian

A Florida county that was devastated by Hurricane Ian last month has seen a sharp spike in cases of illness and death caused by a flesh-eating bacteria.

Officials say Lee County, where the Category 4 storm made landfall on Sept. 28, has reported 29 illnesses and four deaths attributed to the bacteria. All but two cases were diagnosed after the hurricane. Vibrio vulnificus infections can be caused after the bacteria enter the body through open wounds. The bacterium lives in a warm, salty environment.

“The Florida Department of Health in Lee County is seeing an unusual increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections as a result of human exposure to flooding and standing water following Hurricane Ian,” a county health department spokesman said Monday. The statement urged residents to “always be aware of the potential risks associated with exposing open wounds, cuts or scratches to the skin in warm, salty or stagnant water”.

“A sewage spill like the one caused by Hurricane Ian can increase bacteria levels,” the statement continued. “As the situation develops after the storm, people should take precautions against infections and diseases caused by Vibrio vulnificus.”

Collier County, south of Lee County, also has three confirmed cases that officials say are related to the storm. Hurricane relief efforts continue across Florida Vibrio vulnificus is known as the “flesh-eating bacteria” because it can develop into necrotizing fasciitis, a condition that causes tissue to break down. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five patients with Vibrio vulnificus dies, sometimes within just a day or two of becoming ill.

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