This summer, at least six people on the East Coast have passed away after contracting “flesh-eating” germs in warm seas. Health officials report that in July and August, Vibrio vulnificus, a potentially fatal bacterium, killed two people in Connecticut, one in New York, and three in North Carolina.
There are occasionally a few deaths in Gulf states in the United States, but it is unusual for death rates to be rising in East Coast states. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention responded by issuing a health advice alerting medical professionals, testing facilities, and public health agencies to be vigilant for these illnesses.
According to Dr. Rita Colwell, a microbiologist and marine expert at the University of Maryland at College Park and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, “the sky is not falling, but be careful, pay attention, and take it seriously if you have an infection and get it treated,” she told ABC News.
The CDC estimates that Vibrio bacteria cause 80,000 infections annually in the United States. Particularly Vibrio vulnificus can result in infections that are fatal. Every year, the CDC receives reports of 150 to 200 illnesses, and roughly one in five of those cases results in death, frequently just a day or two after symptoms start, according to the organisation.
These bacteria are present in saltwater and brackish waterways naturally, and they are most prevalent in the summer, between May and October.
According to Dr. Antarpreet Jutla, an associate professor in the department of environmental engineering science at the University of Florida, “this bacterium is going to have a coastal origin, meaning that someone would visit coastal waters for recreation, they may have a wound or like exposed skin.” “And then, basically, these bacteria get into those holes, and a person can become infected.”
Eating seafood from coastal waters that are raw or undercooked, such as oysters, can further raise the chance of contracting Vibrio vulnificus infection. Fever, nausea, vomiting, cramping in the stomach, and watery diarrhoea are some signs of Vibrio vulnificus infection. Fever, chills, low blood pressure, and blistering skin sores are signs of a bloodstream infection. A patient may have redness, pan, swelling, warmth, fever, discoloration, and discharge due to a wound infection.
The skin around an open wound can die from necrotizing fasciitis, which can occur in people with wound infections. Antibiotics and fluid replacement are part of the treatment for diarrhoea. Sometimes, necrotizing fasciitis results in limb amputation.
According to the CDC, a large number of illnesses in Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina were brought on by open wounds that were exposed to coastal waters. Some of the diseases were brought on by eating raw or undercooked seafood, while others had unknown causes.
Health officials advise people to avoid saltwater and brackish water if they have an open wound to lower the risk. If any open wounds do come into touch with this water, they should be cleaned up completely with soap and running water. Additionally, stay away from eating or touching raw shellfish.
According to Tessa Getchis, an extension educator at Connecticut Sea Grant & University of Connecticut Extension, “if you got cut and it’s healed over, that’s not a problem.” They want to wait till the wound is closed if it is an open wound. She continued by saying that patients with open wounds should absolutely avoid the water and that applying a waterproof bandage to the wound is insufficient.
According to Jutla, the issue could arise when more people move to the coasts and the coastal waters warm up due to rising temperatures. After Hurricane Ian in 2020, he and a group of scientists from the University of Florida collected water samples from the Fort Myers area and discovered “extensive sampling” of Vibrio vulnificus, even after four weeks of monitoring.
According to experts, the recent passage of Hurricane Idalia in southern states may have created a chance for people to contract Vibrio vulnificus through floodwaters and storm surges. Jutla declared, “If I were in that area, I wouldn’t wander around in flooded waters.” “I would be very careful in in in going to sea water coastal waters.”