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CDC Warns Three Eastern U.S. States About Recent Uptick of Flesh Eating Bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus

Posted in Our Blog,Vibrio on March 14, 2024

CDC Warns Three Eastern U.S. States About Recent Uptick of Flesh Eating Bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Cases of Vibria vulnificus, commonly known as the flesh eating bacteria are on the rise in three eastern U.S. States. Most notably during the heat waves experienced between July through August 2023, says a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.

These conditions contribute to the rise in this type of bacteria that thrive in these warmer waters with decreased salinity.

CDC Weekly Publication Highlights Rise in Flesh Eating Bacteria Cases

According to a Notes from the Field segment in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) publication, an uptick in the number of cases of a water and foodborne pathogen known as Vibrio vulnificus, has been observed among residents of three U.S. states.

Between July 2023 and August 2023, 11 cases of severe V. vulnificus infection were reported in North Carolina, Connecticut, and New York after a period of heat waves and elevated sea surface temperatures.

According to reports, four patients experienced septic shock and five patients died. Patients reported “multiple routes of exposure.”

How Do People Become Infected?

People can become infected with V. vulnificus by consuming it (foodborne Vibrio) or topical exposure (flesh eating bacteria).

Foodborne Vibrio

Vibrio can be contracted by consuming raw or undercooked food contaminated with the bacterium. Oysters and other raw seafood are the most common vectors of this transmission. When water temperatures rise, these bacteria grow in harmful numbers, making certain seafood dangerous to consume. Especially raw.

This correlation between the rise in temperature is the reasoning behind the old wives tale of only consuming oysters during months that contain the letter “R” since warmer months do not. While January, February, March, April, September, October, and November are likely considered cooler months, raw or undercooked seafood should not be consumed in any month.

Flesh Eating Bacteria

The other type of V. vulnificus infection is commonly referred to as flesh eating bacteria because this is what it appears to do to the body.

In these cases, the bacteria enter the body not through the digestive system, but through an open wound in the skin.

You can become infected with flesh eating bacteria if a wound comes in contact with:

  • Raw seafood, or its juices/drippings
  • Undercooked seafood, or its juices/drippings
  • Salt water
  • Brackish water

These skin infections can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, where the flesh around an open wound dies. Vibrio vulnificus is not the only bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis, but it is one of the most commonly referred to as a flesh eating bacteria.

This type of infection is very serious, often requiring intensive care or limb amputation. Around 1 in 5 people with flesh eating bacteria Vibrio wound infections die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming sick.

Patient Information

According to the report, 11 people infected with V. vulnificus were reported to health officials in the states of North Carolina, Connecticut, and New York.

Seven patients were from North Carolina, two were from Connecticut, and two were from New York.

While not necessarily a factor, all but one patient who died had at least one underlying condition including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, history of alcoholism, and hematologic disease.

Six of the patients experienced either septic shock (four patients) or died (five). Three experienced both.

How Did These People Get Flesh Eating Bacteria?

Based on available information, most of the cases acquired the flesh eating bacteria infection through wound exposure along the U.S. Atlantic coast between July 7 and August 22,2023. Two other cases likely became infected from handling raw seafood during food preparation with a cut. Another patient reported wound exposure to brackish water and raw oyster consumption and the final patient with available data indicated consuming raw oysters with no other environmental exposure.

Who Is More Likely to Become Infected with Flesh Eating Bacteria?

Anyone exposed to the flesh eating bacteria can become infected. There are, however, certain factors that can increase the risk of more severe complications.

These include:

  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • HIV
  • Thalassemia
  • Receive immune-suppressing therapy
  • Take medication to decrease stomach acid levels
  • Have had recent stomach surgery

How Do I Know If I Am Infected?

Symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus infection vary depending on how you are exposed. Foodborne is different from a wound infection. Bloodstream infection is different still.

Foodborne Infection

Symptoms of foodborne infection are similar to other foodborne infections.

Foodborne infections symptoms may include:

  • Watery diarrhea (most common symptom)
  • Stomach cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

This type of infection is often treated with antibiotics.

Bloodstream Infection

Symptoms of bloodstream infection get a little more complicated.

Bloodstream infection symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Blistering skin lesions

This type of infection is also treated with antibiotics.

Wound Infection

Symptoms of wound infections start at the site of the lesion and can quickly spread to the rest of the body.

Wound infection symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Discoloration
  • Discharge (leaking fluids)

In addition to antibiotics, this type of infection often requires amputation to remove dead or infected tissue.

How Can I Prevent Flesh Eating Bacteria Infection If I Have a Wound?

Exposure to brackish or salt water with a wound is very risky. It is important to understand exactly what a “wound” is. Any type of opening in the skin is vulnerable. This includes a piercing, tattoo, healing surgical scar, and even a rash or eczema condition leaves you exposed to bacterial infection.

Cover Wound with a Waterproof Bandage

If you have a wound and still plan to wade at the beach or in brackish water or may come in contact with seafood and its juices, cover it with a waterproof bandage. Using a waterproof bandage helps to lock out the potential liquid. Check the bandage regularly to ensure it is firmly sealed.

Wash Cuts/Wounds Thoroughly

If your wound, cut, lesion, or other opening in the skin comes in contact with salt water, brackish water, or seafood, wash it thoroughly. Use soap and warm water and ensure you rinse it clear.

Want to Know More About Food Safety?

If you’d like to know more about food safety, like CDC Warns Three Eastern U.S. States About Recent Uptick of Flesh Eating Bacteria, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)