Rare bacteria outbreak returns to Florida

Several people infected, 2 dead from bacterial infection, health department says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Health is telling swimmers to be careful about a rare bacteria that could be in the water at our local beaches.

The bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, is prevalent in the summertime, and the infections it causes have been linked to several deaths around the state.

The bug is nothing new. It grows fastest in warm saltwater, especially when the water temperatures are above 80 degrees. Infections from the bacteria are rare, but they can be deadly.

Health officials said there have been eight known cases and two fatalities in Florida so far this year.

One case was in Duval County, but it wasn't fatal.

Last year, 32 people got sick and seven died because of the bacteria. In Duval County, a woman died from the bacteria in late August 2014. She had a compromised immune system, health officials said.

"It is definitely a case that we are paying more attention to it now," UNF microbiologist Dr. Terri Ellis said. "So that may be why we are hearing about it more often."

Ellis said most swimmers shouldn't be too concerned, because the bacteria usually only affects those with weak immune systems or open cuts. Those people need to be extra careful.

"The ocean is not sterile," Ellis said. "(The bacteria's) natural environment is ocean water, and it grows faster the warmer the water is."

Ellis said people can also catch the bacteria from eating raw shellfish, especially oysters.

Experts said if someone's infected, they might see swelling and feel bad. It's best to get to a doctor right away, so the bacteria can be stopped before it spreads. 

For a look at the county-by-county statistics in Florida, go to the Florida Department of Health's website.