Flesh Eating Bacteria Plagues Florida Beaches-Truth! & Misleading!

Flesh Eating Bacteria Plagues Florida Beaches-Truth! & Misleading!

Summary of eRumor:

Swimmers have been warned about flesh-eating bacteria at Florida beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.

The Truth:

It’s true that public warnings have been issued about potentially deadly bacteria at Florida beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s technically not a “flesh-eating” bacteria.

Health officials in Florida issued a public warning in June 2015 after bacteria called Vibro vulnificus infected seven people and killed two:

“People can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus when they eat raw shellfish,” Florida Health Department spokeswoman Mara Burger said. “Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater.” 

People with healthy immune systems who eat the bacteria with raw shellfish usually have mild symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. But when Vibro vulnificus enters the body through an open wound, it can be much, much worse, the CDC reports:

“Infection with V. vulnificus is a serious health threat that predominantly affects persons with an underlying illness or a compromised immune system, and especially affects persons with liver disease. The organism is a natural inhabitant of warm coastal waters.”

The bacteria can cause blood infections (which are fatal 50% of the time) and blistering skin lesions, which is why it’s called a flesh-eating bacteria. In extreme cases, the patient’s limbs have to be amputated to stop the spread of infection, according to the CDC.

Public health warnings about the bacteria along Florida’s Gulf Coast aren’t uncommon, either. Warnings were issued in 2013 and 2014, and there were a combined 73 cases reported in those two years. However, public health officials note that Florida beaches receive millions of visitors each summer, so infections are very rare. 

Health experts have also taken issue with the term “flesh-eating bacteria.”

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said, via Clearwater Patch, “There is no such medical term (as flesh-eating bacteria) and the organism is not a Pac-man consuming pac-dots.”

However, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says that necrotizing soft tissue infections are sometimes (informally) called flesh eating bacteria because that’s how they appear: 

“Necrotizing soft tissue infection is a rare but very severe type of bacterial infection. It can destroy the muscles, skin, and underlying tissue. The word ‘necrotizing’ refers to something that causes body tissue to die …The bacteria begins to grow and release harmful substances (toxins) that kill tissue and affect blood flow to the area. As the tissue dies, the bacteria enters the blood and rapidly spreads throughout the body.”

So, aside from debate over the definition of flesh-eating bacteria, this eRumor is true.