Vibriosis Cases Prompt Calls for Summer Water Activity Safety

Following cases of vibriosis in New Jersey, Alabama, and Florida, health officials are telling individuals with open wounds to stay out of coastal or brackish waters.

The summer months are a time for water activities, but with these activities, there can be a risk for water-borne diseases. Following several cases of vibriosis around the country, health officials are urging the public to practice water safety.

Vibriosis is an intestinal or skin infection caused by Vibrio bacteria, which naturally occur in coastal waters particularly in the warmer months ranging from May to October. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that there are 80,000 vibriosis illnesses in the United States each year, resulting in about 100 deaths. Anyone can become exposed to the bacteria by eating seafood, such as raw oysters, raised in waters containing one of the dozen Vibrio species that cause human illness. Exposing open wounds to seawater or seafood contaminated can also cause vibriosis. Ingesting seafood contaminated with Vibrio can lead to diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramping, fever, and chills, with symptoms lasting up to 3 days.

Vibrio wound infections start as redness and swelling at the site of the injury, but the infection can spread to much of the body. Severe wound infections can lead to limb amputation, and about 1 in 7 individuals with these infections die. Individuals with compromised immune systems and liver disease are more susceptible to Vibrio infections with severe complications.

In recent news, a 60-year-old New Jersey man came down with a severe case of vibriosis after crabbing in the Maurice River. According to news reports, within hours of exposure, the man experienced red and raw blisters and swelling in his limbs, with the infection progressing to Vibrio necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating condition. If the infection does not respond to antibiotic treatment, limb amputation may be necessary, according to physicians. The New Jersey Department of Health is reminding the public that the infection cannot be passed from person to person, and to seek medical attention right away if a Vibrio infection is suspected.

In June, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) issued a warning to the public about Vibrio, as there were 4 confirmed and ongoing cases of vibriosis in the state. “Most soft-tissue infections occur with either injury or with conditions such as poorly controlled diabetes or low immunity. However, sometimes otherwise healthy people can develop a skin infection after skin injury and exposure to natural bodies of water. Some bacteria can cause more severe infections than others,” said the ADPH warning. “Vibrio bacteria can enter the body through a break in the skin or by consuming contaminated seafood. If a person gets a cut while in the water, immediately wash the wound with soap and fresh water. If the wound shows any signs of infection (redness, pain or swelling) or if the cut is deep, get medical attention immediately.”

In Florida, which has already seen 12 Vibrio infections resulting in 2 deaths this year so far, state health officials have issued a reminder to residents and tourists to take precautions to avoid catching the rare but serious water-borne illness. When going in the water, the Florida Department of Health recommends wearing proper foot protection to prevent cuts and injury caused by rocks and shells on the beach and says those with fresh cuts or scrapes should not enter the water.