Florida communities devastated by Hurricane Ian are facing a new threat of flesh-eating bacteria — weeks after the massive storm swept across the state.
As of last Friday, the Sunshine State reported 65 infections of Vibrio vulnificus this year, while there were only 37 cases reported prior to the storm that made landfall on Sept. 28, according to Florida Department of Health data.
Lee County, home to the Ian-ravaged communities of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, accounts for most new cases of Vibrio vulnificus, which eats away at the flesh in open wounds.
“DOH-Lee is observing an abnormal increase in cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections as a result of exposure to the flood waters and standing waters following Hurricane Ian,” Lee County Department of Health spokesperson Tammy Soliz told CNN.
“Since September 29, 2022, 26 cases of Vibrio vulnificus associated with Hurricane Ian have been reported to DOH-Lee. All 26 cases had wound infections with exposure to Hurricane Ian flood waters that occurred from the storm-surge entering their homes or during post-storm clean-up. There have been six deaths among Lee County residents.”
At least 11 people in the Sunshine State have died from Vibrio vulnificus infection this year, according to Florida Department of Health data.
There were only 10 deaths and 34 cases of the bacteria reported last year.
Florida Health officials warned residents of the dangers of the bacteria in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Oct. 3. The disease lives in warm, brackish seawater and thrives on sewage spills in coastal waters.
Three cases in Collier County, located just south of Lee County, have been attributed to the hurricane as well.
The rate of reported case numbers are declining, Florida DOH spokesperson Jae Williams told CNN.