Officials: Raw shellfish and open wounds increase risk of deadly bacteria

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SARASOTA COUNTY - A warning was issued for Floridians this weekend regarding a dangerous bacteria that could be lurking in the waters. More than two dozen cases have been reported which resulted in 9 deaths this year in the Sunshine State.

It's known as vibrio vulnificus. Last week it killed a 59-year-old man who was setting crab traps in the Halifax River near Daytona Beach. And last month it's said to have claimed the life of two people in Hillsborough County.

Now some health officials are warning swimmers and seafood lovers to beware.

Vibrio vulnificus is a naturally occurring bacteria found in salt and brackish water. There have been no confirmed cases of someone on the Suncoast coming down with it this year. However, those who study diseases, like Michael Drennon with the health department say it could easily happen. "This organism is in salt water. It would not be a surprise if we had it here in Sarasota.”

It is believed to be responsible for nine deaths in Florida this year. There was one non-fatal case in Sarasota County in 2012, and one in 2010.

"That person had a wound and it became infected when they waded or swam in the gulf," says Drennon.

But swimming in salt and brackish water with a cut isn't the only way to get it. Shellfish, including the popular oyster, come with a risk.

"We sell a lot of oysters. We get mostly gulf oysters; anywhere from Louisiana, Texas, Appalachicola." Brad Norris is manager at Captain Eddie's Seafood in Nokomis. "It's definitely a concern for us. We keep an eye out on the bacteria problems. We keep them cold and process them clean."

All while keeping tabs on every one of them they serve. "We keep this tag for 90 days, just in case something does happen we can track where they came from."

In 30 plus years of shelling them out there, Norris says they've never had to use one of those tags.

Drennon says there is one way to be sure, and it doesn't mean you have to stop eating the oysters as well as other seafood items like clams, and muscles. "You are always taking a risk when you eat raw or undercooked food of any kind. Just eating cooked oysters or shellfish is the appropriate thing to do. It is really going to minimize your risk."

However, if you do think something might not be right, Drennon says the faster you act, the better off you'll be. The most recent death took just a few hours. "If you experience those gastrointestinal or diarrheal type symptoms, they should seek medical care immediately. The quicker antibiotics are administered the quicker they will recover."

Again, the health warning for the bacteria does not include the Suncoast area. However, health department officials believe it is in our water, just that no cases have been reported to them.

For more information about Vibrio Vulnificus, please visit the Florida State Health Department's web site: