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Experts Warn of Deadly Vibrio Bacteria Moving North

Posted in Our Blog,Vibrio on May 10, 2024

Experts warn that the deadly Vibrio bacteria moving North may increase risk of cases in areas not commonly associated with the infection. Is climate change to blame?

What is Vibrio?

Vibrio vulnificus, or more commonly referred to as Vibrio or flesh-eating bacteria is a potentially deadly, opportunistic bacteria, found in low-salinity waters. It can be found in certain areas of the ocean, but it is more commonly seen in brackish water.

Brackish water is where salt water and fresh water meet, creating a still salty, but low salinity cocktail.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a Vibrio vulnificus infection can cause watery diarrhea, stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

The infection can become more serious if it enters the bloodstream. A bloodstream infection can cause fever, chills, dangerously low blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions.

If the bacteria infect a wound, it can spread to the rest of the body causing fever, redness, pain, swelling, warmth around the wound, discoloration, and discharge.

While Vibrio infections are rare, it is extremely dangerous. One in five people who become infected are likely to die. Certain groups of people such as the elderly, those with a compromised immune system, and people with liver problems are at higher risk of becoming infected and experiencing serious symptoms or even death.

Why Are Vibrio Bacteria Moving North Each Year?

According to historical studies, Vibrio bacteria are moving north at a rate of an additional 30 miles each year.

Vibrio bacteria are moving North at a rate of an additional 30 miles each year!

Historically, these flesh-eating bacteria populate the somewhat salty waters in areas off the United States Gulf Coast and in brackish waters along the coastlines. However, reports of infections have been popping up in Northeastern states more and more each year.

Recent Health Advisories Have Says Infections Have Increased Eightfold

Recently, New York City’s Department of Health issued a health advisory, citing that Vibrio vulnificus infections have increased eightfold over the last 30 years.

Vibrio infections have increased eightfold over the last 30 years

These cases have moved up the coastline with several East Coast states, including Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina all having severe and fatal infections during 2023.

Elizabeth Archer, marine biologist at the University of Essex explains that while it is shocking, she isn’t necessarily shocked. In a recent paper, Archer explains that Vibrio infections are expected to rise over the next 20 years in the Northeast. She predicts that the baseline average of around 60 annual cases will increase to around 115 by 2040.

Historical Data Shows Vibrio Bacteria Moving North

Looking at historical data, the northward migration is fairly clear. In the late 1980’s, Vibrio bacterial infections were rare above the state of Georgia. However, by 2018, the deadly bacteria has been regularly reported as far north as Philadelphia.

Studies Suggest Rising Ocean Water Temperatures to Blame for Vibrio Bacteria Moving North

One study, published in Nature, indicated that climate warming has contributed to Vibrio vulnificus infections in North America.

This study analyzed a database of 30 years’ worth of Vibrio vulnificus cases in the Eastern United States. A lot of data points were analyzed. Based on simulated population distribution and estimated global socioeconomic development with projections of greenhouse gas emissions, and the existing eightfold increase in cases, new projection data is available.

According to these findings, By 2041 to 2060, infections are likely to expand to encompass major population centers around New York, combined with a growing elderly population in that area, annual case numbers are likely to double. Projections for 2081 to 2100 show Vibrio vulnificus infections in every Eastern USA state.

The study explains that climate change plays a major role in Vibrio bacteria infection distribution. Between warmer coastal waters favoring the presence of the bacteria and those elevated temperatures increasing coastal water recreation, it is a lose-lose situation.

Vibrio Isn’t the Only Bacteria Showing Growth

While warmer waters are perfect precursors to catastrophes like hurricanes and coastal flooding, Vibrio isn’t the only bacteria showing growth as a result of this warming trend.

Other rare infections, like Valley fever has shown a rise in tandem with rising global temperatures. Valley fever, a previously rare disease in California, has shown a resurgence. This harmful disease can cause coughing, tiredness, and chest pain. Around 20% of those with Valley fever will experience other serious complications, such as ulcers, swollen joints, meningitis, or even death.

Valley fever and hepatitis E infections also on the rise

Some experts have even cited the spread of hepatitis E and other infections diseases may rise alongside global temperatures.

Preventing Vibrio Infections

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, says Benjamin Franklin. In the case of Vibrio vulnificus infections, this is absolutely true.

Avoid shellfish and oysters during warmer months when Vibrio bacteria flourish in coastal waters. Always cook food fully to appropriate internal temperatures.  Never consume raw or undercooked shellfish or oysters.

Avoid brackish waters or handling raw shellfish if you have an open wound, scratch, or cut. Harmful bacteria can enter the openings in your skin and spread throughout your body.

Have You Become Infected with Vibrio Bacteria?

While it may be rare, Vibrio bacterial infections are very serious. What should you do if you become infected with Vibrio bacteria?

Seek Medical Attention

If you feel you have become sick from eating food contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, or have an infected wound, seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms progress rapidly and can go from bad to worse very quickly.

Notify your healthcare provider that you may have been infected with Vibrio to facilitate faster diagnosis and specialized treatment.

Reach Out to a Vibrio Lawyer

If you became infected with Vibrio bacteria from eating contaminated or undercooked food, you may want to seek advise from a Vibrio lawyer. An experienced Vibrio lawyer can go over the details of your case to determine if you have a legal case.

Contact the Vibrio lawyers at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC at (833) 330-3663 or click here for a free consultation.


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