SARASOTA — The recent death of a swimmer in Sarasota County was the result of the vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which can be transmitted through an open wound while swimming in Gulf waters or by eating oysters.
Two cases of the bacterial infection were reported recently in Sarasota County, with one fatality, said epidemiologist Michael Drennon of the Sarasota County Department of Health.
The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County is stressing the death was not from a flesh-eating bacteria.
“It does not typically present itself as flesh eating and neither had presentation like that,” Drennon told the Herald.
The middle-aged victims were infected through open wounds, he said. One victim also had an underlying health condition.
The recovering victim was fishing in warm saltwater in Sarasota County, and officials are unsure whether the person had the wound before or got it while fishing, he said. Health officials are also uncertain which body of water the victim was in.
“The important thing to note about vibrio is that it’s in warm saltwater,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter where it happened.” The other victim passed away before being interviewed, he said, and the Health Department typically does not interview witnesses or family in such situations.
Vibrio vulnificus is caused in one of two ways. The victims acquired the illness from a bacterial infection through an open wound, he said. The bacteria can go into a sore or lesion and create an infection, soreness or redness in the area. The wound could grow larger. Fever is possible and the wound may drain, he said.
“Depending on the situation, the person could develop a bloodstream infection and it could be more severe,” Drennon said. Treatment is available for the infection, he added.
The other way to contract the infection is from eating raw or undercooked shellfish, creating a gastrointestinal illness, he said.
The Health Department is also warning about the dangers of eating raw or undercooked shellfish from areas affected by red-tide algae, said Dianne Shipley, spokeswoman for the Health Department. Ride tide is known to bloom in Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Eating red-tide affected fish can cause neurotoxic shellfish poisoning, Shipley said. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, dizziness and numbing of the mouth, lips and tongue.
That’s different from the ciguatera poisoning found in the Caribbean, which recently sickened a Manatee County family vacationing there. The family ate a fish that had consumed toxic algae after fishing in the Bahamas.