Left in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian is a spike in Vibrio vulnificus, a life-threatening infectious disease unofficially known as “flesh-eating” bacteria.
Florida has 65 confirmed cases of Vibrio vulnificus and 11 deaths. This marks the record number of Vibrio vulnificus cases in a year since the state began tracking cases in 2008. The CDC reports that about 1 in 5 people who contract this illness die. If the disease is left untreated, death can occur in a matter of days.
The spike is especially severe in Lee County, where Hurricane Ian made landfall on Sept. 28, with 29 confirmed cases of Vibrio vulnificus and four deaths.
“Sewage spills in coastal waters, like those caused by Hurricane Ian, may increase bacteria levels,” wrote Lee County department spokeswoman Tammy Soliz in a release, according to USA Today. “People with open wounds, cuts or scratches can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with sea water or brackish water.”
The disease can also be spread by eating raw fish but it cannot spread from person to person.
Once an individual contracts the infection, the disease can lead to a condition known as necrotizing fasciitis, which breaks down skin tissue, according to CBS News. If the spreading cannot be contained, amputation may be necessary.
The disease is known to invade the bloodstream and lead to symptoms such as fever, chills, decreased blood pressure and blistering skin lesions.
The Florida Health Department is encouraging people to stay out of standing flood water left behind by Hurricane Ian — especially those with weak immune systems or open wounds.