Warm water increases flesh-eating bacteria risk. Stay safe with these tips.

Warm water increases flesh-eating bacteria risk. Stay safe with these tips.

Rising Temperatures Bring an Increase in Flesh-Eating Bacteria Infections

Flesh-Eating Bacteria

As the temperatures rise across the United States and the season for hurricanes and flooding begins, there is another threat on the horizon—flesh-eating bacteria. U.S. health officials are warning about an increase in infections caused by Vibrio bacteria, particularly Vibrio vulnificus, which can lead to life-threatening “flesh eating” infections. In a news release, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that approximately 150 to 200 of these infections are reported each year, with a staggering one in five resulting in death, sometimes within just a day or two of becoming ill.

Vibrio bacteria thrive in warmer water, especially during the summer months and when hurricanes hit. Infections have primarily been seen in states along the Gulf Coast, but they have been making their way up the Eastern United States. The number of infections in the Eastern U.S. has increased eightfold from 1988 to 2018, with the infections moving up the coast by about 30 miles per year. Severe and fatal cases have been reported in Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina.

How do People Get Infected?

The majority of Vibrio infections occur when people consume raw or undercooked shellfish, especially oysters. However, it is also possible for individuals to become infected through an open wound that comes into contact with the bacteria. Open wounds can result from recent surgeries, piercings, tattoos, or any other cuts or scrapes.

Coastal floods, hurricanes, and storm surges can force coastal waters inland, increasing the risk of Vibrio infections for those exposed to these waters. It is crucial to be cautious when around saltwater or brackish water if you have an open wound or cut. If you happen to sustain a cut while in the water, make sure to leave immediately.

High-Risk Individuals and Prevention

Although Vibrio infections cannot be transmitted from person to person, certain groups of individuals are at a higher risk of infection. People with underlying health conditions, such as liver disease, diabetes, or weakened immune systems, need to take extra precautions.

To prevent Vibrio infections, the CDC recommends the following measures:

  • Stay out of saltwater and brackish water if you have an open wound or cut. If a cut occurs while in the water, leave immediately.
  • Cover open wounds and cuts completely with a waterproof bandage if they may come in contact with saltwater, brackish water, or raw or undercooked seafood.
  • Wash open wounds and cuts with soap and running water after contact with saltwater, brackish water, or raw or undercooked seafood.
  • Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before consumption.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after handling raw shellfish.
  • Seek medical attention promptly for infected wounds.

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As temperatures continue to rise, it is necessary to be aware of the risks associated with flesh-eating bacteria. By following the preventive measures suggested by the CDC, individuals can minimize their chances of contracting Vibrio infections. Remember, enjoying the summer should not come at the cost of your health. Stay informed, stay safe, and have a wonderful time!

More information For more on preventing Vibrio infections, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.