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Vibrio Vulnificus Outbreak 2013 Symptoms & Treatment: Waterborne Bacteria Kills 10 in Florida

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First Posted: Oct 14, 2013 01:52 PM EDT
Vibrio Vulnificus
(Photo : textbookofbactriology.com)

Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterial infection that people intially thought of as just a spider bite, has infected 31 people in Florida, causing 10 tragic deaths.

On September 21, Patty Konietzky and her husband went crabbing on the Halifax River near Ormond Beach in Florida. Her husband first noticed the small purple lesion on his ankle in the middle of that night. In the next morning, he told her that it felt like his skin was burning near the lesion and hours later, the lesions had quickly spread across his body and he said he was in pain. They rushed to the emergency room and nearly 62 hours since he was in the water, Henry "Butch" Konietzky died.

Vibrio vulnificus is an infection caused by a bacterium found in warm salt water. It's in the same family of bacterium that causes cholera. It exists normally in water and generally only affects people with compromised immune systems. It can cause disease in those who eat raw, tainted shellfish, usually oysters, or have an open wound that is exposed to the bacteria in warm seawater. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. If the bacteria get into the bloodstream, they provoke symptoms including fever and chills, decreased blood pressure and blistering skin wounds, causing a severe and life-threatening illness.

Dr. James Oliver, a professor of biology who has studied vibrio vulnificus for decades at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, and Florida Department of Health officials say people shouldn't be afraid of going into Florida's waters, but those with suppressed immune systems, such as people who have cancer, diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver, should be aware of the potential hazards of vibrio vulnificus, especially if they have an open wound.

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Facing her husband's death, Konietzky feels that it's her responsibility to let others know about the potential risks and warn people.

"I'm not going to be afraid of it, I have to personally put some meaning on the loss of my husband. And speaking out is all I can do."

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