Vibrio Vulnificus: Deadly Bacteria Strikes Quietly, Spreads Quickly

Nathan Francis

Vibrio vulnificus is responsible for a spate of infections and deaths in Florida, and medical experts say the bacteria is especially hard to detect and unusually quick to spread.

Officials believe the bacteria has killed at least 10 people in Florida this year and infected 31 people. The flesh-eating bacteria lives in warm salt water and can infect people in a number of ways, including swimming or eating infected shellfish.

Experts said the bacteria lives everywhere, but are more common around Florida where it thrives in the warmer water.

The bacteria leaves those infected with vomiting, diarrhea, and severe abdominal pains. If untreated vibrio vulnificus can enter the bloodstream, and people with weakened immune systems can become seriously ill or even die.

The infection is troubling to medical experts because its onset looks like a small infection. Patty Konietzky said her husband had a small lesion that looked like a spider bit, but the infected area spread very quickly.

He was admitted to the hospital, but within two days he was dead.

"I thought the doctors would treat him with antibiotics and we'd go home," Konietzky told CBS News. "Never in a million years it crossed my mind that this is where I'd be today."

The bacteria comes from the same family that causes cholera, and a particularly powerful strain has wreaked havoc this summer along the southeastern coast. The outbreak is troubling for state officials across the Gulf Coast, especially in areas that rely heavily on tourism and fishing in the economy.

Officials maintain that swimmers are safe to go into the Gulf of Mexico, however.

Vibrio vulnificus has hit this summer in a region already ravaged by a different bacteria. Naegleria fowleri, a freshwater amoeba that enters through the nose and can eat away brain tissue, has struck in several southern states this year, causing two deaths.