Flagler County Health officials are urging residents not to eat raw shellfish from local waters and to use extra caution at area beaches to avoid contracting a bacteria that killed a Palm Coast man.
Henry Konietzky, 59, was fishing for crabs in the Halifax River Sept. 21 when he contracted Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that lives in warm seawater. He died Sept. 23.
“Vibrio is a bacteria that can be in brackish types of seawater during the warm times of the year,” Flagler County Health Director Patrick Johnson said. “It might get in an oyster, and if a person eats it raw, they can get sick off it. The other way it is contracted is through a wound or a lesion, usually from standing in brackish water.”
There were 26 reported cases of Vibrio vulnificus in Florida last year, Johnson said, a number that is fairly standard. Two of the cases were in Volusia County. There have also been nine deaths.
The Vibrio vulnificus bacteria is in the same family as the one that causes cholera. It poisons the blood, attacks the liver and is deadliest for people with weakened immune systems, Johnson said. Symptoms include fever, chills, blistering skin lesions, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Health department officials have urged people to avoid exposing wounds or broken skin to seawater or brackish water or to raw shellfish harvested from those waters. They have also urged people not to eat any raw shellfish and to wear gloves when handling raw shellfish.
Boiled shellfish should be cooked for at least five minutes after the shells open, according to a health department news release, and steamed shellfish should be steamed for an additional nine minutes after the shells open. Shucked oysters should be boiled for at least three minutes or fried in oil for at least 10 minutes at 375 F.
Johnson asked people to take extra care around the water. “Don’t eat raw oysters or raw shellfish — make sure you cook them — and in water like that, make sure you don’t have lesions that are exposed,” he said.