Deaths from Florida salt water bacteria on the rise

Vibrio vulnificus is a naturally occurring saltwater bacteria. File photo
File beach photo

HERNANDO COUNTY, FL (WFLA)- Karen Yeager Mercer wants to warn other about a deadly bacteria that thrives in saltwater. Her son, Cason Yeager, 26, is one of the latest Florida victims. He died last month after swimming in Hernando County, just south of Pine Island. Mercer says he died within 48 hours and she thinks health officials should do more to warn the public.

“I don’t think they are knowledgeable enough about the symptoms of it and I think they are taking it all way too lightly,” Mercer said. Yeager is one of 14 sickened from the bacteria; seven of those people died. And that’s just in Florida. This bacteria, Vibrio Vulnificus, is not new. It lives in salt water and people get sick from it every year, health officials say. Officials say healthy people should be fine swimming in salt water, but say anyone with open wounds or a compromised immune system should stay out of the water. Those at high risk should also avoid eating raw shellfish.

But Mercer says her son was not at high risk. He had a auto immune system as a child, but had no symptoms for 10 years, had regular checkups and was under no health restrictions. She says his first symptom was the chills, followed by vomiting, and he quickly worsened. But Mercer says it took doctors way to long to consider her son could be sick from the bacteria.

“Right after he went into a code blue and they had to resuscitate him and one of the doctors came out and started asking me a ton of different questions, like ‘where had he been, had he eaten any raw fish?'” Mercer said. The Florida Health Department sent a statement to News Channel 8:
“The department recommends that persons with open wounds or broken skin should avoid exposure to warm salt or brackish waters. Open wounds include cuts, scrapes or other abrasions. Most at risk for Vibrio vulnificus infections are those with underlying health concerns, particularly chronic liver disease, kidney disease or weakened immune system.”

Last year, there were 7 deaths in Florida from this bacteria. That concerns officials because as the water warms during the summer, the bacteria grows. The number of cases varies each year. In 2013, there were 41 cases and 12 deaths in Florida.

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