According to a new report, "carnivorous" bacteria that live in the ocean could be spread in beach waters previously unaffected by climate change.
The authors of the report described five cases of severe bacterial, flesh-eating infections in people exposed to water or seafood from Delaware Bay, located between Delaware and New Jersey. Such infections have always been rare in Delaware Bay because the bacteria responsible for the disease, called Vibrio vulnificus, prefers warmer waters, like those in the Gulf of Mexico.
But with rising ocean temperatures due to climate change, V. vulnificus may move further north, making these infections in previously banned areas, said the authors. [10 Bizarre Diseases You Can Get Outdoors]
"We think clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections occur more frequently outside traditional geographic areas, "wrote the authors of the Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, in their report published today (June 17) in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
V. vulnificus lives in ocean waters with temperatures above 13 degrees Celsius. People can become infected with the bacteria in two ways: if they consume contaminated seafood or if their wound is in direct contact with the seawater containing the bacteria. Although most people infected with V. vulnificus will develop only mild symptoms, some people develop life-threatening skin or blood infections. V. vulnificus can cause necrotizing fasciitis, a rare "flesh-eating" infection that quickly destroys skin and muscle tissue. This can lead to amputations or even death.
The authors noted that from 2008 to 2016, their hospital experienced only one case of V. vulnificus infection. But during the summers of 2017 and 2018, this number has risen to five cases.
All of these patients had gone to Delaware Bay crab or had eaten seafood from the area and all had developed necrotizing fasciitis. A patient is dead.
In one case, a 46-year-old man was slightly injured in the leg while he was fearful. Two days later, he developed progressive pain, swelling and blisters on his injured leg, which turned out to be an infection caused by V. vulnificus. He needed emergency surgery to remove dead tissue from his leg, and he needed skin grafts to repair the large wounds.
In another case, a 64-year-old man developed severe, swollen blisters filled with fluid in his right hand after cleaning and eating crabs. Despite an emergency surgery, he developed an abnormal heart rate and died quickly.
And a 60-year-old man who went to crab and ate a dozen crabs from Delaware Bay developed a progressive swelling of his right leg. He had to undergo surgery to relieve the pressure on his leg. But his condition worsened and spread to his other limbs; The doctors eventually had to amputate all four limbs, although the man survived.
Necrotizing fasciitis with V. vulnificus usually not in people with a healthy immune system, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People are at increased risk of V. vulnificus infections they have chronic liver disease or other conditions that weaken their immune system. Of the five cases described in the new report, three people had hepatitis B or C and diabetes.
To prevent infection with V. vulnificus, the CDC recommends that people with open wounds avoid contact with salty or brackish water or cover their wounds with an impermeable bandage. To reduce the risk of catching the disease, it is also recommended that people avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish, said the CDC.
Originally published on Science live.