Doctors warn of bacteria in salt water after Jacksonville officer almost dies

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Doctors are warning people with open cuts to avoid salt water after a Jacksonville officer contracted a dangerous bacteria and almost died.

Dr. Vanda Bhide, a Mayo Clinic internist, said the bacteria Vibrio is a serious threat lurking in salty or brackish water.

“It’s such a powerful bacteria," Bhide said. "It can cause a really, really devastating infection."

Officer Dennis Godfrey with Jacksonville Sheriff's Office contracted Vibrio after he went on a fishing trip in Palm Valley. He had a cut on his leg from working during Hurricane Matthew.

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His leg was amputated on Sunday.

“People can live here for many, many years and not know that this bacteria is a part of our water—it’s especially there in the warmer months,” Bhide said.

There were four Vibrio cases in Duval County in 2015. Two people died.

There was one reported case in St. Johns County in 2015. That person survived.

Action News Jax asked the Florida Department of Health if it notifies the public after a vibrio case is reported.

A spokesperson sent us a statement that reads in part:

The department does not issue advisories for Vibrio Vulnificus as it is naturally occurring in the water and we expect it to be there year-round, especially in warmer months. The department works with the community to inform them about the risks associated with Vibrio Vulnificus."

The spokesperson said Florida’s beaches and water are safe to enjoy responsibly if you take proper precautions.

“People with open wounds or weakened immune systems have an increased risk of infection. Vibrio Vulnificus does not pose a risk to a normally healthy person who does not have open wounds or cuts,” the department of health said.

Healthcare providers are required to report cases to the state and the state investigates each exposure.

Bhide said it’s always best to air on the side of caution before jumping in the water.

“If you look at yourself and your children before you go into the water make sure there are no cuts. Just putting a Band-Aid on, isn’t going to be enough,” Bhide said.

You can also get Vibrio by eating raw shellfish.

If you'd like to donate money to help Godfrey, visit the Fraternal Order of Police GoFundMe page.

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