Each summer, as the waters along the U.S coastline, heat up, cases of flesh-eating bacteria become prevalent. These parasites can act quickly and may be deadly. While there are many different types of flesh-eating bacteria, in many cases Vibrio vulnificus is at fault.
This bacteria can be contracted by exposing a wound with contaminated water or handling raw shellfish. Vibrio vulnificus is one of over 20 species of Vibrio which cause vibriosis, which is responsible for an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States each year.
Most infections occur between May and October. (1) Those with a compromised immune system or liver disease are more likely to get an infection and severe complications. (2)
Recently, a man from Tennessee died just 48 hours after contracting a flesh-eating bacteria from waters in Florida, the family had spent several days in the water, at a beach in Destin, and Boggy Bayou.
After spending time in the water, his daughter, Cheryl reported that her father began to complain about fever, chills, and some cramping. After his symptoms worsened, he was taken to a hospital back in Memphis.
Less than 48 hours after getting out of the water, the bacteria known as Vibrio vulnificus had manifested into necrotizing fasciitis – flesh-eating disease.
Cheryl noted in her story, which went viral, that there were no warnings or posted advisories about any bacteria in the water. She says that her father would likely still be alive today if they had known the dangers.
Symptoms of Vibrio Vulnificus Infection
When ingested, symptoms typically of bacteria exposure occur within 24 hours and last about three days: (1)
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal cramping
If this bacteria is exposed to an open wound, symptoms will manifest as spreading soft tissue infections. (3) The infection spreads very quickly, and it is crucial to act immediately when the first signs are noticed.
Early signs include:
- Quick-spreading redness and swollen skin
- Severe pain beyond the affected area
Later symptoms include:
- Discoloration of the skin to a purplish or reddish color
- Ulcers and fluid-filled blisters on the skin
- Pus-filled lesions on the skin
- Pus in the injury
- Diarrhea or nausea
This bacteria can consume tissue with every passing second. When seeking medical treatment, the first course of action is the administration of intravenous antibiotics to stop the action of the bacteria.
This treatment will only be fully effective if the infection is caught at a very early stage. Otherwise, doctors would also have to surgically remove or scrape off destroyed necrotic tissue in addition to the antibiotics.
Patients may require more than one surgical procedure, and if the limb has been severely destroyed, amputation and blood transfusion may be the safest courses of action.
Vibrio Vulnificus Prevention
Be aware this summer, take it upon yourself to be informed of bacteria levels when planning a trip to the beach or water. The thought of flesh-eating bacteria is troubling, however, you can promote safety by taking the following steps:
- Avoid consuming raw or undercooked seafood, particularly shellfish such as oysters, scallops, mussels, crab, lobster, and shrimp
- If you’re preparing seafood, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, and avoid cross-contamination with other food and cooking surfaces
- Check for any bacteria level reports for your planned destination
- If you have cuts or wounds, don’t hesitate to skip the beach day for your safety
- Avoid shaving immediately before a beach day
- Make a habit of showering with soap as soon as you can after leaving the beach
Climate change is rapidly occurring and more waters becoming warmer than before, bacteria may be moving farther north and thriving in areas that were previously termed safe and nonendemic.
Find Information About a Particular U.S. Beach
There are four ways you can find information about a particular beach:
- Find out if the water quality of a beach is currently monitored
- Find out which beaches are closed now or have health advisories
- Find out which beaches were closed or under health advisories in the recent past
- Learn about what EPA is doing in different regions of the country to protect beaches