When Hurricane Ian slammed into Lee County, Florida, as a near-Category 5 storm last month, it left in its wake not just widespread destruction but also a surge of rare “flesh-eating” bacterial infections, state health data shows.
Flesh-eating bacteria can cause “necrotizing fasciitis” — an infection that triggers aggressive inflammation in the tissue surrounding muscles and other organs, causing that tissue to rapidly die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(opens in new tab) (CDC). The bacteria enter the body through broken skin, and necrotizing fasciitis can set in quickly thereafter, leading to life-threatening complications like shock and organ failure. Up to 20% of people with necrotizing fasciitis die, some within days of the infection’s start.
The type of flesh-eating bacteria behind Florida’s surge in infectionsis called Vibrio vulnificus. The salt-loving bacteria can be found in warm, brackish water, meaning a mix of fresh and salt water typically found in estuaries, salt marshes and the points where rivers meet the ocean, according to the CDC(opens in new tab).