Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded to make landfall in the United States, swamped the Florida coast in late September. In the wake of the storm, areas in Florida hardest hit by the hurricane reported an increase in cases of a “flesh-eating” bacterial infection.
A viral post on Twitter claims people should avoid eating raw sushi or raw seafood for the next few weeks because of the “flesh-eating” bacteria cases associated with Hurricane Ian. The tweet has garnered more than 66,000 likes since it was first shared.
Is the spike in “flesh-eating” bacteria cases after Hurricane Ian related to eating raw seafood?
No, the spike in “flesh-eating” bacteria cases after Hurricane Ian is not related to eating raw seafood.
WHAT WE FOUND
Spokespersons for the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Health in Lee County both told VERIFY all of the cases of vibrio vulnificus, known informally as a “flesh-eating” bacteria, associated with Hurricane Ian happened after exposure to contaminated floodwaters — not after eating raw seafood.
Lee County, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Ian, saw an abnormal spike in cases of vibrio vulnificus due to impacts from the storm. As of Oct. 24, a total of 28 vibrio vulnificus cases and 7 deaths associated with Hurricane Ian have been reported to the Florida Department of Health.
“Due to the astronomical flooding that occurred in Lee County from Hurricane Ian, the Florida Department of Health in Lee County is observing an abnormal increase in vibrio vulnificus wound infections with exposure to flood waters,” the spokesperson said.
Vibrio bacteria naturally inhabit coastal waters and typically concentrate inside shellfish and other seafood that live in these waters during the summer months when the water is warmer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about a dozen vibrio species can cause human illness, known as vibriosis. One of the most common of these species in the U.S. is vibrio vulnificus.
It is possible for a person to get a vibrio infection from eating raw or undercooked oysters and other seafood. However, people with open wounds, cuts or scrapes can also be infected if they come in contact with contaminated saltwater, brackish water or flood water after a storm.
Hurricane Ian brought intense winds, heavy rainfall, and catastrophic storm surges to parts of Florida’s western coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This led to unprecedented flooding in Lee County and surrounding areas. The city of Fort Myers, which is located in Lee County, was hit particularly hard with a 7.26-foot surge — a record high.
Healthy individuals typically develop a mild case of vibriosis, which can recover after about three days with no lasting effects, according to the CDC. However, vibrio vulnificus infections can be a serious concern for people who have weakened immune systems, particularly those with chronic liver disease.
Signs of vibrio vulnificus infection can include watery diarrhea that is often accompanied by stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Other symptoms include chills, dangerously low blood pressure, blistering skin lesions, as well as pain, swelling, discoloration, and leaking fluids.
Some vibrio vulnificus infections lead to necrotizing fasciitis, a severe infection in which the flesh around an open wound dies, the Florida Department of Health says. This type of infection is sometimes referred to as “flesh-eating bacteria” in news reports.
“People with a vibrio vulnificus infection can get seriously ill and need intensive care or limb amputation. About 1 in 5 people with this type of infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill,” the CDC writes on its website.
The Florida Department of Health in Lee County and the Lee County Department of Public Safety both shared tips on ways to prevent a vibrio vulnificus wound infection. Those tips include the following:
- If you have open wounds, cuts, or scratches, stay out of flood water, standing water, seawater, and brackish water, if possible.
- Immediately clean and monitor wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and clean running water or bottled water after contact with flood water, standing water, seawater, brackish water, or raw or undercooked seafood and its juices.
- Cover your wounds with a waterproof bandage if it could come in contact with flood water, standing water, seawater, or brackish water.
If you believe you may have been exposed to vibrio vulnificus after Hurricane Ian, you should seek immediate medical care if a wound develops signs of infection, including redness, swelling, oozing, fever, increasing pain, shortness of breath, fast or high heart rate, or confusion or disorientation.