The vast majority of people who are exposed to the bacteria don’t get sick, he said. A few people become ill but recover. Only a fraction of people are violently ill and fewer still die; Oliver said many of those people ingest tainted, raw shellfish.
Oliver and Florida Department of Health officials say people shouldn’t be afraid of going into Florida’s waters, but that those with suppressed immune systems, such as people who have cancer, diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver, should be aware of the potential hazards of vibrio vulnificus, especially if they have an open wound.
Holm said nine people died from vibrio vulnificus in Florida in 2012, and 13 in 2011, so this year’s statistics aren’t alarming. What’s different, she said, was that victims’ families are speaking to the news media about the danger.
Konietzky watched as her husband Henry “Butch” Konietzky died on Sept. 23. She said she feels it’s her mission to let others know about the potential risks. Next week, she and her husband’s adult daughter are scheduled to appear on “The Doctors” television program to discuss the disease.
“We knew nothing about this bacteria,” she said. Never mind that both she and her husband grew up in Florida and have spent their lives fishing and participating in other water activities.
The couple had gone crabbing on the Halifax River near Ormond Beach on Sept. 21, she said. Her husband first noticed the ankle lesion in the middle of that night. He didn’t wake his wife, but in the morning, told her that it felt like his skin was burning near the lesion. Patty Konietzky took a photo of it and hours later, when her husband said he was in pain and the lesions had spread, they went to the emergency room.
Konietzky said her husband didn’t have any health problems or open wounds that she knew of, and when doctors told her that he had an infection in his bloodstream, she didn’t think it was too serious. Within hours, her husband’s skin turned purple and it “looked like he had been beaten with a baseball bat.”
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.
“To walk around in the water and doing the things we did, you didn’t give it any thought,” she said.
Konietzky said her husband wouldn’t want her — or anyone else — to stop fishing or enjoying outdoor activities because of a fear of the bacteria. Nonetheless, she wants people to be aware of the risk and is pushing her local county commission to post signs warning folks about the bacteria.
“I’m not going to be afraid of it,” she said. “I have to personally put some meaning on the loss of my husband. And speaking out is all I can do.”