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Death Toll Linked to Seawater Bacteria Found Rises to Nine in Florida

Sep 30, 2013 04:11 PM EDT

A deadly bacteria found in Florida's warm coastal waters has resulted in 26 cases and nine deaths so far this year, according to health officials.

Henry "Butch" Konietzky, 59, died last Monday after he was exposed to the bacteria known as Vibrio vulnificus while catching crabs.

"We are all still in shock," Konietzky's daughter Sheila Konietzky told The Daytona Beach News-Journal. "What's really devastating is that he fished his whole life. For something like this to take him away from us so quickly, without warning, is really scary."

A total of 26 cases have been reported so far this year; 35 cases were reported in Florida in 2011.

According to Flagler Health Department Administrator Patrick Johnson, the health department is working to make the public aware of the danger posed by the bacteria.

"This is an illness that generally happens when someone eats raw oysters but that's not the case here," Johnson said. "Because the two most recent cases are linked to the same area, we wanted to make the public aware."

Vibrio vulnificus comes from the same family as cholera. It can cause disease in individuals who consume contaminated seafood or have an open wound exposed to contaminated seawater. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms in healthy people include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. However, in those with a compromised immune system, and in particular chronic liver disease, the pathogen can infect the bloodstream. When this happens, fever and chills, decreased blood pressure and blistering skin lesions occur, with 50 percent dying as a result.

Between 1998 and 2006, the CDC received nearly 1,000 reports of infections caused by Vibrio vulnificus.

Dr. Bonnie Sorensen, director of the Volusia County Health Department, told the News-Journal: "We are advising residents to cook all seafood and avoid going into the water with open wounds."

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