Officials: Don't call it 'flesh eating bacteria'

St. Petersburg, Florida -- The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County is trying to bust some myths when it comes to the so-called flesh-eating bacteria.

First and foremost, the agency wants people to stop using that term. It's not a medical term and has been used to describe multiple bacterial infections that can lead to a condition known as "necrotizing fasciitis," most commonly attributed to the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.

Vibrio's been in the headlines recently, after two people in Sarasota were infected by it, and one of the cases proved to be fatal. To date, there have been 13 cases reported in Florida for all of 2014, with three deaths. No cases have been reported in Pinellas County this year.

The DOH-Pinellas has this additional information on what Vibrio vulnificus is and isn't:

  • There are several varieties of vibrio that live in saltwater. The type in the news is Vibrio vulnificus, but there are other kinds.
  • During the summer months when saltwater is very warm, vibrio numbers naturally increase.
  • Based on the millions of visitors to the state's beaches, the percentage of exposure to beach waters versus contracting vibrio is extremely low.
  • Beach water is not the only source of vibrio infections. Eating raw or undercooked seafood is another common way to be infected. Raw oysters are a very common vibrio carrier.
  • Vibrio enters the body through open wounds. Unlike the advice many of us received from mothers and grandmothers to "clean" cuts by wading in beach water, entering salty waters in beaches or fishing areas with cuts or wounds is not recommended.
  • The majority of people exposed to vibrio may not have any severe symptoms. Some may have vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.
  • In those with chronic liver disease, Vibrio vulnificus can cause a severe, or even fatal, illness. Symptoms are fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions.
  • Open wounds exposed to Vibrio vulnificus may lead to a breakdown and ulceration of the skin.

PHOTOS: Woman survives necrotizing fasciitis, gets bionic hands

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