October 25, 2016

Vibrio Outbreak in Florida Highest in Years

The Florida Department of Health is reporting that the number of cases of Vibrio vulnificus in that state is the highest in years to date. The total for 2015 so far is 42 sick, higher than any year since 2008.  In 2013, the yearly total was 41 cases.

Raw Oyster PlateEven worse, the death toll from that illness is 13 in 2015, the highest since 2011. People in the following counties have died: Brevard (2), Duval (2), Escambia (1), Hillsborough (3), Lake (1), Marion (1), Pinellas (1), Pork (1), and Sarasota (1).

Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that lives in salt water. It can get into seafood and contaminate it. It is from the same family as bacteria that cause cholera.

Anyone who eats contaminated seafood can become ill. The symptoms of Vibrio food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. The bacteria can also cause a skin infection when anyone with an open wound goes into the ocean.

While most people recover within a week with a mild illness, those with weakened immune systems, and chronic illnesses, especially chronic liver disease, can become seriously ill. If the bacteria get into the bloodstream, the patient will experience feel and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and skin lesions. These bloodstream infections are fatal in half of all patients. The bacteria cause 80,000 illnesses, 500 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths every year in the United States.

Eating raw and undercooked seafood, especially oysters, is a risk factor for this illness. The bacteria is often found in oysters, especially during the summer months when coastal waters are warm. The illness is not spread person-to-person.

The infection is diagnosed by stool, wound, or blood cultures. It is a reportable illness, so any doctor who sees a patient with GI illness after eating raw seafood should check for this bacteria. The illness is treated with antibiotics and the treatment should be immediate.

Oysters are supposed to be harvested only from waters that are free of fecal contamination, but any oysters, no matter where they are harvested, can be contaminated with Vibrio. The bacterium is naturally present in the ocean. The bacteria does not change the taste, appearance, or odor of the seafood.

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