WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- According to a newly published report, flesh-eating bacteria may now be spreading north and contaminating beach waters that are once known to be unaffected.
- Vibrio vulnificus, the bacterium causing the disease was noted by the report authors in five cases where people were exposed to contaminated water from the Delaware Bay.
- The bacterium which usually lives in warmer waters is reported to be moving north due to climate change, causing ocean temperatures to rise.
Thanks to climate change, previously unaffected beach waters can now be contaminated with ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria, according to a report published on June 17 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Authors reported five cases of severe flesh-eating bacterial infections in people who were exposed to contaminated water or seafood from the Delaware Bay. Historically, such infections have been rare in the Delaware Bay, which is situated between Delaware and New Jersey. This is because the bacterium causing the disease called Vibrio vulnificus lives in warmer waters like those in the Gulf of Mexico.
However, the authors said that rising ocean temperatures may cause the bacteria to spread farther north eventually contaminating waters previously said to be off-limits.
“We believe that clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections are occurring more frequently outside traditional geographic areas,” wrote the authors from Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey in their report.
V. vulnificus thrives in ocean waters with temperatures over 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). People can be infected if they are exposed to contaminated seafood or if they have an open wound that comes into direct contact with contaminated seawater.
While most people infected with V. vulnificus develop mild symptoms, some people develop deadly infections in the skin or bloodstream. Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare ‘flesh-eating’ infection caused by the bacteria that quickly destroys skin and muscle tissue which may result to amputations or death.
From 2008 to 2016, only one case of V. vulnificus infection was noted by the authors. But that number leaped to five in the summers of 2017 and 2018 wherein all of the patients had either gone crabbing or consumed seafood from the Delaware Bay. All patients developed necrotizing fasciitis while one died.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), normally, necrotizing fasciitis infections with V. vulnificus don’t happen to people with healthy immune systems. But people with chronic liver disease or with compromised immune systems are the ones at risk of V. vulnificus infections. Among the five reported cases, three patients had hepatitis B or C while one had diabetes.
Regarding the prevention of infection with V.vulnificus, the CDC suggests people cover their open wounds with a waterproof bandage or avoid contacts with salt or brackish water. To lower the risks of being infected, the CDC recommends avoiding eating raw or undercooked shellfish.
Source: Live Science