Understanding the Rare Flesh-Eating Bacteria on the East Coast: 8 Fatalities and Key Information

By Pikesville Patch
Posted on 08/17/23 | News Source: Pikesville Patch

Health officials are warning of a rare flesh-eating bacterium known as Vibrio vulnificus, found naturally in warm coastal waters, that has killed at least eight people along the East Coast this summer.

Two people died in Connecticut and another on Long Island after becoming infected, health officials in both states said this week. Five people have died in Florida so far this year, according to state health officials.

Vibrio infections are commonly associated with eating raw or undercooked oysters and other seafood, but also occur when people with open wounds or cuts come in contact with seawater or brackish water where the bacteria are present, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vibrio are bacteria that occur naturally in brackish water such as the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and in salt water, especially during warm weather months, the Maryland Department of the Environment said. Vibrio infections are relatively rare in Maryland and nationwide.

However, when Vibrio or other bacteria come into contact with an open wound they can cause serious infections. Vibrio infections can be particularly dangerous for people with liver disease or weakened immune systems.

People infected by the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria often require intensive care or limb amputations, and about one in five die, often within a day or two of becoming ill, according to the CDC.

Vibrio can also cause ear infections.

Vibrio levels are not monitored in Maryland to provide guidance for swimming and other water activities. The MDE said there is no known numerical threshold or standard that can be linked to risk of infection from Vibrio bacteria.

To Protect Yourself:

If you develop a wound with unusual redness, swelling or drainage, seek medical attention immediately, experts said, and let your health care provider know whether you came in contact with brackish or salt water.