Salt Water Bacteria Kills Local Man

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Oyster lovers know the potential danger of oysters to people with low immune systems or liver problems, but the same vibrio vulnificus bacteria found in oysters can also be deadly for some people who enjoy water activities.

Seventy-four-year-old Don Sitte didn't die from eating raw oysters, but he did die of the vibrio vulnificus bacteria that make oysters particularly dangerous for some people.

"We all live here on the Bay and enjoy it, and we need to know about this and be aware of it. Who would ever have thought that it could happen to our family? But it did and it began with just a scratch on the arm," says Dory Sitte, daughter-in-law.

Sitte got his scratch and the vibrio vulnificus bacteria after emptying fish traps in early June. He died a few weeks later. Sitte’s friend, Bay County Commissioner Gerry Girvin, had a similar infection almost two years ago, though the bacteria that infected him were different.

"It was caused by a barnacle that had scratched my arm. It had destroyed the immune system in the process and that brought out all kinds of things that normally the immune system keeps in check," says Bay County Commissioner Gerry Girvin.

Commissioner Girvin says he's still fighting the effects of the infection that also nearly killed him. Bay County’s health director says vibrio vulnificus deaths from cuts are rare, but that people should take the threat seriously, especially if they have an open wound or get a cut while in salt water.

"There's more of it when the water is warm. There's never as much of it floating in the water as there is in oysters, so the risk is not high, but it's still a definite risk," says Dr. Peter Sylvester of the Bay County Health Department.

Don Sitte's immediate family wasn't available for an interview, but say they want the public to be aware of the potential dangers caused by the salt water bacteria.