Simple Precautions Can Protect You From Potentially Deadly Vibriosis Cases

Posted on Aug 6th 2019 by Marilyn Young

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As Dr. Kelli Wells talked about the recent spate of fatal vibriosis cases, she clearly wasn’t overly concerned. In fact, her children were at the beach at the time.

Wells, who is Florida Blue’s senior medical director for medical affairs, wants to educate people about vibriosis and share ways for them to protect themselves.

Vibrio is a bacteria that lives in saltwater and brackish water, especially in warmer temperatures like in Florida. People can become infected by eating raw or undercooked shellfish from those waters or having an open wound come in contact with water where the bacteria is found.

The Centers for Disease Control says there are about 80,000 cases of vibriosis each year, with about 100 deaths – that’s less than 1 percent. In Florida, there have been 399 reported cases since 2008, with 108 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

Wells said more than 50,000 of the national cases are food-borne illnesses linked to shellfish, particularly oysters. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills. One way to avoid this type of vibrio is to only eat thoroughly cooked shellfish.

The skin-borne illnesses are caused when open wounds are exposed to brackish water or saltwater, Wells said.

Redness, pain and drainage from the wound are typical symptoms of vibriosis. The person should be treated early with antibiotics, Wells said, so people who experience even mild symptoms after being in the water should see a physician immediately.

“It is often an infection that is out of proportion to what the initial injury was,” Wells said. “Just a little scrape from a rock and you’ll get a very angry, red, draining, oozing kind of wound, if you’re not careful.”

She said people should avoid going in the water when they have fresh open cuts and sores. Even healing wounds should be covered when in the water and washed immediately with soap and water after leaving the water.

Some people have a higher risk than others, Wells said, including diabetics (because they have trouble with wound healing) and those with liver disease.

Vibrio is one of the bacteria strains that can be associated with a condition called necrotizing fasciitis, which can severely damage all tissues in the affected area. WebMD says necrotizing fasciitis is a serious infection of the connective tissues that surround muscles, nerves, fat and blood.

Wells said taking necessary precautions can help protect from you from vibriosis but still allow you to enjoy shellfish and a trip to the beach. The recent headlines haven’t become a reason for her family to not visit the beach.

“It may be a reason that when they (her children) come out of the water, we don’t sit still,” she said. “We go and rinse off and we are more attentive to our skin, but we still enjoy our beaches.

“I can’t duck the beach. I want to be there right now,” Wells said, referring to being with her children. “They’ve called me a hundred times.”


Filed under: Prevention  


Marilyn Young

Marilyn Young spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining Florida Blue.

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