(LEE COUNTY, FL) – Florida is continuing to recover following the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
In Lee County, where the category 4 storm made landfall on Sept. 28, the number of illnesses caused by storm surges and subsequent flooding is rising.
Officials say there has been 29 illnesses and four deaths caused by Vibrio vulnificus, a species of bacteria found in warm, brackish water that typically comes in contact with humans through undercooked seafood or cuts and other open wounds. All but two cases were diagnosed after the hurricane.
Vibrio vulnificus can cause severe skin infections that may be life-threatening, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vibrio vulnificus is said to be a “flesh-eating” bacteria because it can develop into necrotizing fasciitis, a rare condition that causes tissue breakdown and at times requires amputation to prevent further spread.
The infection itself, whether acquired through food or direct contact with contaminated water, “has the potential to cause severe illness or death,” the Lee County health department said in a news release posted on Oct. 3, just after the hurricane.
“The Florida Department of Health in Lee County is observing an abnormal increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections as a result of exposure to the flood-waters and standing waters following Hurricane Ian,” a spokesperson at the county health department said on Monday.
The statement called on residents to “always be aware of the potential risks associated when exposing open wounds, cuts, or scratches on the skin to warm, brackish, or salt water”.