Late last month, Hurricane Ian made landfall in southern Florida, and authorities cautioned locals not to wade in the storm waters because of the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals and germs.
It was difficult to stay out of the water as streets were flooded, vehicles were submerged, and water entered houses and other buildings in the hurricane’s path.
Increased incidences of Vibrio vulnificus, an extremely uncommon but potentially fatal bacterial infection that may cause tissue death surrounding exposed wounds, have been observed in the wake of the storm. According to Florida state records, there have been 28 confirmed cases. A representative for the state’s Health Department has confirmed that seven deaths have occurred.
The state’s Health Department warned that although these illnesses are uncommon, they may arise when open wounds are exposed to polluted water. The Lee County Health Department warned that the bacteria thrive in brackish water, or a mixture of fresh and saltwater, and that prompt treatment following the beginning of symptoms was essential.
Lee County, the most hit area in the state, accounted for all but two of the incidents.
The Lee County Health Department’s spokesperson, Tammy Soliz, noted that a “abnormal rise” in these diseases had been seen after Hurricane Ian “as a consequence of exposure to the floods and standing water.”
According to Jae Williams, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, circumstances were ideal for this bacterium due to the “astronomical quantity of rain” and floods.
Mr. Williams said that the ideal conditions for the growth of these bacteria are created when water remains stagnant in warm, humid places like Florida’s tropical panhandle.
The Lee County Health Department said in a press statement published on October 3 that getting Vibrio vulnificus might lead to “serious sickness or death.”
The health service warns that “anyone may develop a Vibrio vulnificus infection,” but that those with compromised immune systems are more at risk.
Skin rashes, hypotension, fever, and chills are all possible indicators.
According to the CDC, although Vibrio vulnificus infections cannot be spread from person to person, they may be caught in a number of different ways, such as by eating raw oysters or by having a wound come into contact with infected shellfish or its fluids.
According to the CDC, treatment options include anything from rest and medicines to amputation. Vibrio vulnificus infections are very dangerous, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that “often within a day or two after getting unwell,” one out of every five persons who catch the disease will succumb to their illness and die.
Necrotizing fasciitis, sometimes known as “flesh-eating bacteria,” occurs when the skin around a cut becomes infected and tissue dies. However, not all infections with Vibrio vulnificus result in necrotizing fasciitis. Necrotizing fasciitis may be caused by a wide variety of bacteria, not only the Vibrio strain.
According to the CDC, a prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial for necrotizing fasciitis. The agency’s forecast of 700-1,150 annual cases is “likely an underestimate,” it says.
According to official statistics, there were 34 occurrences of Vibrio vulnificus in Florida in 2017, resulting in 10 fatalities. There were 37 instances of Vibrio vulnificus documented in the state of Florida in 2022 up to the day before Hurricane Ian made landfall.
Additional cases of lethal bacterial infections after natural disasters have been reported throughout the years. Five years ago, Hurricane Harvey ripped across the Houston region, killing at least two people with necrotizing fasciitis.