Saturday, January 20, 2018

Health officials warn of bacteria in Florida lagoons

MELBOURNE — Central Florida health officials have issued warnings about a flesh-eating bacterium that led to the death of a Flagler County man last month.

Henry Konietzky's death Sept. 23 from the rare infection came less than 62 hours after he waded into the Halifax River to fish. Antibiotics and blood transfusions failed to stop the bacterial infection from spreading throughout his body.

"He looked like someone beat him with a baseball bat," his wife, Patty Konietzky, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. "The only way I can describe it was like someone poured acid all over him."

Konietzky said her family has fished for decades on the river without ever knowing it might contain the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium that killed her husband. He never thought to check his body for scrapes or small wounds that might lead to infections after exposure to the water, she said.

She wants signs posted along the river warning people about bacteria in the brackish water.

"Maybe we would have crabbed from the bridge instead. I don't know what we would have done, but at least we would have been given a choice," she said.

Health officials say they're faced with a challenge in publicizing the health risk without panicking people over naturally occurring bacteria that seriously affects only a small percentage of the millions of people exposed to it.

Posting signs about bacteria that are impossible to detect would be ineffective, said Dr. Bonnie Sorensen, director of the Volusia County Health Department.

"This is naturally occurring, so I'm not sure where you would start posting signs," she said. "It's everywhere."

Statewide, 27 cases have been reported this year. Henry Konietzky's case was the nine death.

Brevard County health officials issued a warning Friday about the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium that can be found in brackish seawater in the lagoons along coastal Florida. Authorities in Flagler and Volusia counties also have issued similar warnings.

They are warning against swimming or fishing in coastal lagoons for people who have open wounds or cuts since that can lead to an infection that eats away at the skin. They also say people with weakened immune systems are at risk for an infection if they eat raw shellfish contaminated with the bacteria.

Health officials recommend not eating raw shellfish, especially raw oysters. They also suggest that people wear gloves when handling raw shellfish.

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