Doctors believe that climate change may have brought flesh-eating bacteria into hitherto unaffected waters.
In a report published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers say that rising water temperatures in the Delaware Bay could be at the root of an increase in the number of cases Vibrio vulnificus infection that may occur after handling or consumption of contact with seawater.
V. vulnificus bacteria can cause carnivorous infections, necrotizing fasciitis, and diarrhea.
In this article, a team of infectious disease specialists from Cooper University Health Care in Camden, New Jersey, describes five cases of V. vulnificus necrotizing fasciitis that occurred during the summer of 2017 and 2018. Eight years prior to 2017, has seen only one case of life-threatening infection.
The five cases occurred after the patients had been exposed to water and / or had eaten crabs from Delaware Bay. All patients received prompt medical attention and surgical management, but one patient died.
"Our experience suggests that clinicians need to be aware of the potential for V. vulnificus infections to occur more frequently outside traditional geographic areas," said Dr. Katherine Doktor, Infectious Disease Specialist at the Cooper University Health Care, in a statement. statement provided to NBC News.
Although physicians have noted some variation in Vibrio infections from one year to the next, the overall increase in the number of cases is not surprising.
Indeed, "the seawater is on average slightly warmer than in the past," said Kimberly Reece, director of the Department of Aquatic Health Sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. , which was not part of the new report. . This is especially true in northern waters. So I think we're probably seeing a higher incidence of disease in the central Atlantic and Northeast. "
But Reece said that the increase in the number of cases in Delaware Bay could be due to something more than the temperature of the water, than other water conditions, such as salinity and pH , could also play a role.
Other experts suspect, however, that rising water temperatures are the main culprit.
"Vibrios are in many ways a standard bearer of climate change because they are very sensitive to small changes in [water] Glenn Morris, director of the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute, also did not participate in the new research.
"With the steady rise in global water temperatures, we are seeing an increase in the levels of this particular pathogen. This can result in an increasing number of foodborne illnesses, such as oysters, or infections of wounds after contact with salt water, Morris said.
There are several species of vibrios that infect humans, but the deadly type, V. vulnificus, is usually contracted when an open wound comes into contact with coastal salt water. Necrotizing fasciitis, an infection of the skin that kills the soft tissues of the body, can develop quickly shortly afterwards. If it is not treated quickly with antibiotics, the infection can become fatal. But most often, bacteria are ingested in raw or undercooked seafood, causing diarrhea. The resulting disease is rarely life threatening and symptoms appear within 24 hours and last for about three days.
Morris noted that vibrio infections, although rare, are more likely to cause diarrhea or sepsis, a bacterial infection in the blood that causes organ closure, than deadly flesh-eating infection . He also added that most healthy people did not have to worry either, because the people most at risk were people with weakened immune systems, as well as children and adults. the elderly.
"If you belong to one of these high risk categories, people should be aware that there are bacteria in the water that can cause serious infections," he said. declared. "Yes, it's a minor risk, but people should be aware of it."
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