PINELLAS COUNTY, FL (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side has learned that the last person to die from a deadly beach bacteria is from Pinellas County. The victim passed away during the last week of July. But state health officials refuse to disclose how or where the victim picked up the bacteria.
That has some beach visitors uneasy.
“We don’t have any open cuts or anything, but I worry because I do have a weakened immune system, and being susceptible, I’d like to know exactly what does that mean?” Jamie Erickson said. “Is that here? Are we at risk?”
So far this year, Florida has seen 20 cases and 10 deaths. The Florida Department of Health releases case numbers once a week and includes where the infected person is from, but not where they contracted the bacteria, known as vibrio vulnificus. In severe cases, the vibrio bacteria can break down the skin, requiring surgery, amputation or even death.
The bacteria is found in raw shellfish and warm saltwater, which worries some because Florida’s saltwater is getting warmer. 8 On Your Side has tried for months to obtain an on-camera interview with health officials, but they refuse.
In June, the state reported two deaths and eight cases. Officials posted a video with advice and said healthy people should be fine. Those with the open wounds or weakened immune systems are advised to avoid raw shellfish and to stay out of saltwater.
“The way to protect yourself from skin infections from vibrio is by performing good wound care and you do that by covering the wounds with dry clean bandages until they’re healed,” said Dr. Carina Blackmore, Deputy State Epidemiologist.
But now, even with 20 cases and 10 deaths, the department won’t provide any specifics on the cases.
A state spokeswoman said in an email that the department is following the law and cannot release specifics because it needs to protect victim confidentiality.