Health alert issued over flesh-eating bacteria in Sarasota

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- A health alert has been issued by the Sarasota County Health Department about flesh-eating bacteria. Two cases have been confirmed in the county, and one person has died as a result of an infection. Although this warning was issue today, the health department tells us the patient died last week.

I spoke to Epidemiologist Michael Drennon of the Health Department, and he says the agency wants to make sure people are aware of the potentially harmful bacteria in coastal waters.

It's called "vibrio vulnificus," a flesh-eating bacteria that thrives in warm salt water. Eleven cases have been reported so far this year in Florida, along with several deaths. The bacteria occur naturally in warm coastal waters -- particularly during the summer. As such, people with wounds, cuts or scratches should avoid warm salt water.

Health officials also urge people with certain health conditions including a weakened immune system, the elderly and the very young to avoid eating raw oysters and other shellfish. Those with liver disease, including Hepatitis C and cirrhosis are most at risk.

It’s important to note that because vibrio makes its home in warm salt water, it's present in the Gulf all the time. (Note: The recent no-swim advisories in the area were unrelated to this particular bacteria.)

In response to questions about why the death was not reported sooner, Drennon says that the Health Department is not required to report to the public, nor is it the agency’s policy to do so.