Alarm in the United States over the spread of a flesh-eating bacterium that has already killed several people

Health officials in the United States have issued an alert over the presence of a deadly bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus in the waters of the country’s east coast and Gulf of Mexico. According to the Florida Department of Health and Human Services, five people have died this year from cases related to this bacterium, dubbed the “flesh-eater” by the media.

Macro shot of
Macro shot of the Vibrio vulnificus bacteriumcommons.wikimedia

The effects of “flesh-eating” bacteria

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last weekend that the bacterium had spread primarily to the East Coast of the United States. Specifically, the fatalities were registered in New York, Connecticut, North Carolina and Florida.

According to US health officials, this bacterium thrives in warm water and low-salinity marine environments, such as estuaries. Regarding the unusual increase in the activity of this bacterium in recent months, the CDC explains that it has also been favored by the rise in sea temperatures, which is a natural consequence of summer.

The main routes of infection with Vibrio vulnificus are contact of open wounds with coastal waters and consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish. Common symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and fever. However, in more severe cases, necrotizing infections can develop in people with liver disease, diabetes, and other problems that weaken the immune system.

This means that the skin, muscles, nerves, fat, and blood vessels around the infection begin to die off. The situation becomes even more complicated when the bacteria enter the bloodstream, causing sepsis and spreading the infection to other parts of the body. When this happens, the likelihood that the results will be fatal is greatly multiplied. Some studies estimate that the infection is fatal in one in five cases, sometimes as early as a day or two after the first symptoms appear.

How do I avoid infection?

Given the importance of the problem, the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued five recommendations for infection prevention:

  • Avoid contact with salt or brackish water if you have an open wound.
  • If you cut yourself while swimming, leave the water immediately.
  • Cover wounds with waterproof bandages.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw shellfish.
  • Fully cook shellfish before eating.
Photograph of a person suffering from Vibrio vulnificus infection
Photograph of a person suffering from Vibrio vulnificus

If you’re planning to travel to the United States, particularly to the coastal areas mentioned above, it’s important that you follow these five precautions from the country’s public health authorities.

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