HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Hillsborough County man, visiting Mississippi has become the third Florida resident to die from Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that lives in warm seawater.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health confirmed the death on Thursday. The man’s identity or age was not released. State health officials cited HIPAA privacy laws and could only say that the man contracted the deadly bacterial infection from seawater exposure while in Mississippi.
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The Florida Department of Health on Thursday also confirmed the state’s fourth death from Vibrio vulnificus, which is a naturally occurring bacteria that is a bit more active in the summer, according to Anne Gayle Ellis, who is spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County.
Today we received confirmation from the state lab of one Vibrio vulnificus case in Lake County in 2015. The patient unfortunately did pass away, said spokesperson Mara Burger, who said that state epidemiologists investigate possible cases. Investigations include an interview process and further lab testing.
The deaths come after the Florida Department of Health warned residents about the dangerous bacteria, which is often incorrectly referred to as “flesh-eating bacteria.”
“It is always a concern from year to year, especially with extreme heat,” said Ellis, who emphasized that infections are rare.
People can become infected by eating seafood infected with Vibrio vulnificus. Ingestion of Vibrio vulnificus can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
The Vibrio vulnificus bacteria can also infect people who have open wounds that come in contact with saltwater. The infections may lead to skin breakdown and ulcers.
People who have compromised immune systems are more vulnerable to infection, according to the state health department.
So far this year, state records show that ten cases have been reported including one case in Pasco and one case in Hillsborough. Of the four Vibrio vulnificus deaths so far this year, one was a Hillsborough County resident, one was a Brevard County resident, one was a Marion County resident and one was a Lake County resident.
In 2014, there were 32 Vibrio vulnificus cases in Florida. Of those cases, four involved Pinellas County residents, three involved Hillsborough County residents, two involved Sarasota County residents, Polk, Pasco and Citrus Counites each had one case. In 2014, seven Floridians died from Vibrio vulnificus, all lived outside of the Tampa Bay area except one victim who lived in Sarasota, according to state health records.