Bacteria kills Sarasota man after swimming in Gulf

Florida issues health alert

Florida health officials have put out an alert warning people about the dangers of eating raw oysters and swimming with open wounds following the latest death from a bacterial infection.

A middle aged man from Sarasota died after he was infected with vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that causes nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and severe dermatitis.

Local health officials said the man suffered from liver disease, which made him especially prone to the vibrio infection.

Health officials said they suspect he caught the disease by swimming in the Gulf.

In addition to people with liver disease, those with weak immune systems are also susceptible to vibrio.  

While widespread media reports were classifying the disease as a "flesh-eating bacteria," health officials in Sarasota County said that was not an accurate designation of vibrio vulnificus.

"I would not call it a flesh-eating bacteria," said Michael Drennon, epidemiologist for the Sarasota County Health Department. Drennon said the symptoms aren't the same as necrotizing fasciitis, a fast-moving disease that quickly consumes flesh and skin.

Vibrio is still a dangerous illness, Drennon said. Anyone who develops symptoms should contact health professionals immediately and seek antibiotics. 

The bacteria is found in seawater and brackish water along the Gulf Coast. It's not often contracted by people, although the state said there were 41 cases in 2013, and 11 so far this year. Ten people have been killed by the disease since the beginning of last year.

"The water's fine to go in. I don't have issues with that," Drennon said. "Just be diligent if you have an open wound."

There are no plans to close any beaches in Florida as a result of these cases. 

"I was a little nervous taking the kid to the beach," said Dan Buck of Lakewood Ranch, who brought his 5-year-old to Lido Beach in Sarasota. "We don't have any open cuts or anything like that, so he should be all right."

Breanna Jardine, an Ohio mother of two with a third on the way, said she wasn't going to fret over the reports of a swimmer catching the sometimes deadly illness.

"I'm not going to let it ruin our vacation," Jardine said.

Jennifer Lundy traveled to the Gulf Coast from Sebring, and said the report of the bacteria concerned her, but not enough to keep her kids out of the water.

"You try to be cautious and teach them to watch out for things but bacteria is not something you can see," Lundy said. "You can walk out of your backyard and anything can happen. I mean, there are issues everywhere."

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