By: Jory Lange
If there is one thing a vibrio lawyer will tell you is that a vibrio infection is not a day at the beach. But when most people think about vibrio, they think about raw seafood – oyster, clams, scallops, and shellfish in general. They do not usually think about the beach, or rather, ocean water.
But if you have been watching the news this summer, you probably have heard of the term “flesh-eating bacteria.” Flesh-eating bacteria is actually a species of vibrio, called vibrio vulnificus. It does not actually “eat” flesh, but rather kills it. A long-term complication of this type of infection causes skin around the infected area to slowly die, called necrosis fasciitis. This can also lead to the potential for limb amputation, and possibly, death. According to the CDC, many cases are diagnosed across the United States each year, requiring quick antibiotic treatment for survival. There have been cases from Florida, Alabama, Texas, and other Gulf Coast states in the news recently linked to swimming in ocean waters. Vibrio, which loves warm, salty, brackish water, infected those who became ill through open wounds.
Summer is especially a concerning time for vibrio, due to the warming of coastal waters. Vibrio vulnificus is not because of pollution, and is not unique to the Gulf of Mexico.
What Are Vibrio Symptoms?
Vibrio symptoms typically begin within 24 hours of infection. Vibrio symptoms include: watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, fever, and chills. Symptoms often last about three days.
However, Vibrio can lead to severe infections, amputations, and even death in vulnerable people. Vibrio can infect and sicken anyone. But people with any of the following conditions are more likely to get Vibrio infections and, once infected, are more likely to suffer severe (even life threatening) complications:
- People undergoing any type of immune-suppressing therapy as part of their medical treatment;
- People taking medicine to reduce levels of stomach acids;
- People who have recently had stomach surgery; and
- People with liver disease, cancer, diabetes, thalassemia, or HIV.
People with any of these conditions are at an especially high risk from Vibrio infections.
How Common is Vibrio?
According to the CDC, each year approximately 80,000 Americans are infected with Vibrio. Approximately 100 Americans die from Vibrio infections each year.
How Is Vibrio Diagnosed?
Vibrio infections are diagnosed by testing the stool, blood, or wound of a patient.
But vibrio infections of this kind are preventable. According to the Galveston County Department of Health,
“People who suffer cuts while in natural bodies of water anywhere should immediately leave the water, thoroughly clean the wound and do not return until the wound heals. It’s important to keep an eye on the area for infection or swelling. If either occur, medical attention should be obtained immediately. Vibrio vulnificus infections are treatable, especially if caught early. Wearing water shoes while swimming and gloves or waders while fishing can help prevent cuts.”
Thanks to our friends and contributors from MakeFoodSafe.com for their insight into Vibrio injuries.