Beware of Beach Bacteria

An elderly woman died of an infection after swimming in Matheson Hammock

By Diana Gonzalez
|  Thursday, Jul 29, 2010  |  Updated 2:15 PM EDT
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Bacteria in South Florida Water

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Bacteria in South Florida Water

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95-year-old Nelson Malavenda was married to the love of his life for nearly 70 years. 

“Had a happy life, wonderful,” he said.

Shirley also loved the water and would swim at Matheson Hammock twice a week. Then last August she scraped her leg: “A layer of skin came off," recalled Malavenda, "about an inch.”

That didn't stop Shirley from going there for a swim. 

“A week later, that leg was swollen up," Malavenda said about what happened next. "She would sit right here and say Nelson, Nelson I'm cold. It hurts, it hurts. I'm cold. Took her to the hospital and the next day they had to amputate her leg.” 

Shirley died 3 weeks later from the bacteria vibrio vulnificus found in ocean water especially during hot summer months.

 
“Because as the heat increases water evaporates," Dr. Vincent Conte of the Miami-Dade Health Department explained, "concentrates the salt concentration and they seem to flourish in those types of conditions. Because it's so widespread, it doesn't really make sense to post any warnings because it's always there.”
 
Over the least 5 years in Florida this bacteria has infected 138 people, most over age 50. There have been two cases in Miami-Dade, both fatal.
 
“You're looking at probably .5 in a million chance of getting vibrio vulnificus, so the chances are very small” said Dr. Conte. While most cases have been in people with weakened immune systems, even if you're young and healthy Dr. Conte advises avoid swimming in salt water with any open wounds. 

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