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Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills Two in Florida as Water Temperatures Rise

Cases of Vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria that has already claimed two lives in Florida this year, may be more widespread as a warming trend continues.

A total of eight Vibrio vulnificus cases have been reported so far in 2015 across six different counties. Two cases resulted in death- one in Brevard County and one in Marion County.

The bacteria thrives in areas of warm water including oceans, lakes and rivers. Most cases occur in Gulf Coast states.

"Much of Florida had early season heat during April and May, which helped to push water temperatures to warm levels early on this season," AccuWeather Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said. "Since the weather pattern will remain quite warm through the summer and early autumn, water temperatures will likely remain at sufficiently warm levels to sustain the Vibrio vulnificus for an extended period."

Areas of brackish water, where salt and fresh water mix, can host larger populations of the bacteria. Risk of infection is highest during summer months due to the peak water temperatures.

Infections are rare as bacteria enters the body through open wounds or by eating infected shellfish. Still, with warmer-than-normal conditions affecting Florida so far this season, cases may be on the rise.

Once infected, symptoms can range from vomiting and abdominal pain to skin breakdown and ulceration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 50 percent of Vibrio vulnificus cases prove fatal.

The bacteria is also more likely to target those with compromised immune systems.

The Florida Department of Health issued a statement encouraging visitors to spend time at Florida beaches, citing safe conditions.

"Florida's beaches and water are safe to enjoy responsibly-risk of infection is minimal if you take proper precautions," they said in a press release.

In 2014, the state recorded 32 total cases, seven of which resulted in death.

Those with open wounds, cuts or scrapes should avoid entering warm bodies of water. Anyone who may have swam in the waters are encouraged to properly rinse off after ocean contact. Additionally, shellfish should be properly cooked, eliminating any remaining bacteria.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Katy Galimberti at kathryn.galimberti@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @AccuKaty. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.