Girl, 7, infected with flesh-eating bacteria

Bacteria contracted in water through open cut in foot, health officials say

By Chris Parenteau - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 7-year-old Jacksonville girl has been infected with a flesh-eating bacteria, the Duval County Health Department confirmed Wednesday.

Health officials said the girl contracted Vibrio vulnificus through an open cut on her foot while swimming in the St. Johns River. Officials said her infection is not severe and she is expected to be OK.

Many cases are contracted through the consumption of raw or undercooked seafood.

This form of flesh-eating bacteria was the subject of a recent Jacksonville University study that found levels of it in the St. Johns River.

"If you have any open wounds on your body, it may be wise to stay away from brackish water," said Haley Zachary, of the Health Department. "Stay with the pools and away from areas where there is salt water. In terms of ingestion, just make sure your seafood is cooked."

Symptoms of the bacteria are similar to other food-borne illnesses ingested, and redness and lesions on the skin if contracted through an open wound.

Charlie Thomas, who fishes the St Johns River almost daily, said that might change.

"Just get away from this water. Just get away from here," he said. "I don't need to catch nothing in it. I'm not fishing for the sport. I'm fishing to eat."

He isn't alone.

"If the river is contaminated, the fish have to be contaminated, too," George Dowdell said.

Across the state, 11 cases have been reported this year as of July 25; two in Charlotte and Lee counties, and one in Dixie, Duval, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Jackson, Sarasota and Taylor counties. One person in Sarasota died from the bacteria earlier this week. Officials said that person had a medically compromising condition.

"We are not going to see severe infections in healthy people," Zachary said. "We are looking for that severe infection in older people, people who are severely immuno-compromised, and most common in people who have liver function issues."

Officials are urging people who have liver problems to avoid eating raw oysters, saying they could be extremely vulnerable to contracting the bacteria. Officials said you should be careful with other types of shellfish and seafood as well, making sure they are fully cooked. That's not just from the river, but anywhere with warm saltwater or brackish water.

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

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