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Health officials warn of flesh-eating bacteria at Florida beaches

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    Surfers share a wave at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, Fla., on Friday, June 12, 2015. (Andrew Wardlow/News Herald via AP)
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. >> Florida health officials are warning residents and tourists a rare form of flesh-eating, potentially deadly bacteria has made its way to Florida beaches.

The Vibrio vulnificus bacterium grows fastest in warm saltwater and has already infected at least seven people, killing two this year in Florida. The state health department says there have been 32 cases in the past 12 months. Officials say a spike in cases occurs from May to October when water is the warmest.

Florida Health Department spokeswoman Mara Burger says consuming or handling raw shellfish and swimming in warm saltwater can put people at risk. People with open wounds can also be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater.

The bacterial infection can cause gastroenteritis, sepsis and can lead to amputation.

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