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Florida health officials warn of deadly vibrio bacteria

Three people have died in Florida after contracting harmful bacteria in warm coastal waters. Officials warn swimmers to be careful if they have any open wound
Bacteria on Florida beaches proves deadly 01:10

Sarasota County health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after one person died this week and another was sickened by a flesh-eating bacteria.

Florida officials say 12 cases have been reported statewide so far this year, including three deaths. There were 41 cases in 2013. The two Sarasota people who contracted vibrio vulnificus were middle-aged and had medically compromising conditions, which may have left them more vulnerable.

Michael Drennon, an epidemiologist at Sarasota County's health department, told CBS News the bacteria can enter the body through a small cut and can eventually lead to a drop in blood pressure, skin blisters and even death.

"The opportunity for infection is going to depend on the wound. So the more significant the wound, obviously, the more chance for becoming infected," said Drennon.

Vibrio is an infection caused by a bacteria found in warm saltwater. It's in the same family of bacterium that causes cholera. The vibrio vulnificus bacteria occur naturally in coastal waters, especially in the summer months. Symptoms include stomach illness, fever or shock after eating raw seafood -- especially oysters -- contaminated with the bacterial, or a wound infection after exposure to bacteria in seawater or brackish water.

Unfortunately, doctors often fail to recognize the symptoms of a vibrio infection or don't treat a patient soon enough. In October 2013, Patty Konietzky of St. Petersburg, Fla. lost her husband to a vibrio infection that first showed up as a small purple sore on his ankle. Nearly 62 hours after he was in the water, Butch Konietzky died. His wife notes that she, too, was in the same water -- yet wasn't infected.

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

But she told CBS News she didn't blame the doctors for his death. "They did everything to save his life. I will rest knowing there wasn't anything else they could have done," she said.

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