|Published:||Oct 09, 2013 8:37 AM EDT|
|Updated:||Oct 09, 2013 10:55 AM EDT|
LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Dangerous bacteria linked to scores of illnesses and several deaths this summer in Florida have infected seven people in Lee County, including two people who later died, state health department officials confirmed Tuesday.
Vibrio vulnificus lives in salt water and, in rare cases, can be fatal. It also can cause skin lesions and blisters, prompting some to call it a “flesh-eating” bacterium — a label that Dr. Judith Hartner, the health department’s director in Lee County, called an exaggeration.
The two fatal Lee County infections involved one county resident in his early 50s, who died last month, and a visitor to the area, who died in July and was older than 60, Hartner said.
Both were infected after going into the Gulf of Mexico with open wounds, Hartner said. She said she does not know where they entered the water. The other five victims, all Lee residents, were infected with less-dangerous Vibrio varieties, she added.
Lee County typically sees about five such cases a year, Hartner said. Most are not serious, she said.
“It’s pretty rare,” she said.
From 1988 to 2006, about 900 U.S. residents have reported Vibrio infections, most from Gulf Coast states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta. Florida sees about 30 such cases a year.
The state has seen at least 27 such cases in 2013, and nine deaths associated with Vibrio vulnificus, according to Health Department officials in Tallahassee. The department issued a public health alert last week about Vibrio vulnificus and is expected to update infection numbers today, said spokeswoman Sheri Hutchinson.
Hartner said her office debated whether to issue a public alert about the infection risk and the deaths this year, but ultimately decided not to. She said she concluded that repeated warnings about every health threat might overwhelm the public and make people ignore more pressing alerts.
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