With two months to go, Florida has already smashed a grim record this year: 65 infections of Vibrio vulnificus, a potentially deadly microbe known, though not quite correctly, as flesh-eating bacteria.
Lee County’s 29 cases and four deaths are the most in the state in both categories, a count Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani calls “off the charts.”
Collier has had three cases and no deaths; Charlotte has had a single nonfatal case. Landlocked Hendry County had none. The state’s total is the highest ever since V. vulnificus infections started being tracked in 2008. The next-highest year was 2017, when Hurricane Irma caused extensive flooding. That year saw 50 cases statewide and 11 deaths, as many as this year.
The blame for 2022’s spike goes to Hurricane Ian, says the Florida Department of Health, which is warning people to stay out of flood and standing water left by the storm. “Sewage spills in coastal waters, like those caused by Hurricane Ian, may increase bacteria levels,” wrote Lee County department spokeswoman Tammy Soliz in a release. “People with open wounds, cuts, or scratches can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with sea water or brackish water.” So can those who eat raw or undercooked oysters and shellfish, she points out.