Vibrio death confirmed in Santa Rosa County

Posted on September 20, 2017 by Romi White

Exposure to deadly bacteria in saltwater has claimed the life of one person in Santa Rosa County, according to the Florida Department of Health. The death marks the third Vibrio-related fatality in Florida this year.

“There have been two Santa Rosa residents this year with confirmed Vibrio vulnificus. Both had wound exposure to seawater; one unfortunately did pass away,” Mara Gambineri, DOH communications director told South Santa Rosa News.

Gambineri was unable to provide information about where the contaminations occurred. “We do not have that level of detail available,” she said.

Santa Rosa County DOH Spokesperson Deborah Stilphen in June confirmed the county’s first 2017 case of Vibrio case but reported that person recovered.

“Generally, we don’t specify a location because people can come into contact with it in any body of warm, salty water. It occurs naturally in the environment. So, specifying a location could give the impression that if people avoid the area they won’t come into contact with it and they don’t need to take precautions,” Stilphen said.

Per Gambineri, Vibrio vulnificus is a naturally occurring bacteria in warm, salty or brackish water, so it is present year round in Florida. Infections are rare but exposures occur more commonly during the summer months from May to October, when the water is warmer.

“Florida’s beaches and waters are safe to enjoy responsibly if you take proper precautions. People with open wounds or weakened immune systems have an increased risk of infection. Vibrio Vulnificus does not pose a risk to a normally healthy person who does not have open wounds or cuts,” Gambineri said.

DOH encourages good wound care. “It is the best way to prevent a bacterial skin infection,” Gambineri said. “Keep open wounds covered with clean, dry bandages until healed and don’t delay first aid of even minor, non-infected wounds like blisters, scrapes or any break in the skin.“

Additionally, raw shellfish can also be contaminated with Vibrio, so it is important for people to thoroughly cook oysters and other shellfish to avoid getting sick.

Florida Department of Health records show Escambia County and Okaloosa County have each had one reported case of Vibrio. There have been 23 cases in Florida during 2017. The other two Vibrio-related fatalities this year occurred in Brevard and Orange Counties.