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Florida health officials are warning those headed for the water to make sure they're aware of a flesh-eating bacteria.

Two people have contracted the flesh-eating vibrio vulnificus in the past month in Sarasota County. One victim has died.

The Sarasota County Department of Health says both victims were middle age and had compromising medical conditions. Both are believed to have gotten the infection through open injuries.

Vibrio vulnificus is the bacteria that can lead to flesh-eating condition also known as necrotizing fasciitis. The bacteria live in warm, salty waters.

While infections are rare, health officials say individuals should take precautions.

Michael Drennon, an epidemiologist with the Sarasota County Health Department, says anyone though with an open wound should think twice before heading into warm salt water.

Infections in people with those types of conditions have a 50 percent fatality rate.

When it infects the skin via open wounds, Vibrio vulnificus can cause skin breakdown and ulcers. Ingestion of the bacteria can trigger vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

People with weakened immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease, are the most at risk when they eat raw shellfish, especially oysters, health officials said, because oysters filter the bacteria from the water. Eating a single contaminated oyster can kill.

A total of 41 cases of Vibrio vulnificus were reported statewide in 2014, and there have been at least 11 cases and several deaths due to the infection of an open wound or from consuming raw shellfish.

The bacteria rarely cause serious disease, and as a result is underreported, according to the CDC. Illness usually begins within one to three days of exposure, but up to a week later for a small percentage of cases. Symptoms include fever, swelling and redness of skin on arms or legs, with blood-tinged blisters, low blood pressure and shock.

Even an ant bite or any tiny wound can allow an entry point for the bacteria.

Tips to prevent Vibrio vulnificus infection:

  • Do not eat raw oysters or other raw shellfish.
  • Cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly.For shellfish in the shell, either a) boil until the shells open and continue boiling for 5 more minutes, or b) steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for 9 more minutes.
  • Do not eat those shellfish that do not open during cooking.
  • Boil shucked oysters at least 3 minutes, or fry them in oil at least 10 minutes at 375°F.Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.
  • Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
  • Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters.
  • Wear protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish.

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