This is not the news you want to hear in the middle of the summer and while you are perhaps planning a getaway to the beach!
A flesh-eating bacteria is making its way up the east coast of the United States — and it’s now being reported as far north as the Delaware Bay, due to increasingly warm water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.
Typically found in the warmer waters of the Gulf Coast in places like Texas and the Florida panhandle, Vibrio vulnificus has unfortunately quickly been headed north, according to a new report published on Tuesday in The Annals of Internal Medicine.
Between 2017 and 2018, the bacteria infected at least five people who either ate seafood from the Delaware Bay, or who went crabbing in the bay area between Delaware and New Jersey — marking the most-northern known point for the bacteria to have spread to date.
One of the five cases resulted in a fatality; according to CBS News, a 64-year-old man passed away last year after contracting an infection after cleaning a Delaware Bay crab with his bare hands. Another man had all four limbs amputated (!!!) after eating a dozen crabs from the area; a third known infection occurred when a man accidentally cut his leg on a crab trap in the water.
Five cases of vibrio vulnificus may not sound like a lot — and it certainly isn’t, when compared to how many people go to beaches on the east coast every year — but it is a disturbing increase when you consider there was just one confirmed infection in the area between 2007 and 2016. The disease’s fatality rate is also concerning; the Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are a little more than 200 infections every year, nationwide, with more than one in seven of those infections resulting in death.
Now, it’s important to note that all five of the recent Delaware Bay patients who contracted vibrio vulnificus had pre-existing medical conditions and/or otherwise compromised immune systems; infections like this are particularly risky for those who are dealing with other health issues, those with current infections or sores, and the very young and very old. Those with healthy immune systems will likely only suffer a mild case of the infection, which lasts roughly 72 hours and goes away with no ill effects.
Still, more serious cases can lead to limb amputation, as with that one case a year ago, and/or death for those most seriously affected by it. So, the CDC is urgently warning clinicians on the eastern seaboard that the disease appears to be spreading relatively rapidly and “infections are occurring more frequently outside traditional geographic areas,” according to the written report.
For those seeking to avoid potential exposure to the disease: the CDC warns people not to eat raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters. Furthermore, swimmers — especially those with any cuts, scrapes, or open wounds healing on their body — should avoid salt water and/or brackish water (a mixture of fresh and salt water) this summer, particularly across the eastern seaboard as water temperatures continue to warm.
[Image via WENN]