Vibrio vulnificus infection is a flesh-eating bacterial infection spread by handling or eating contaminated seafood. Significant increases in sea surface temperatures may lead to changes in the “quantity, distribution, and seasonal windows of bacteria” in the coastal ecosystem favorable for Vibrio, noted a study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Infected patients may have symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. When people with a compromised immune system are infected, the bacteria can infect the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness. A case of a 46-year-old man complained of a swollen left leg two days after he injured himself while crabbing. His skin and blood cultures verified a Vibrio infection and his oozing blisters on his calf led doctors to remove connective tissue and then perform grafts.
Though now it is difficult to build a real strong case that flesh-eating bacteria are moving north due to global warming based on limited patient reports, it is suggestive that water temperatures indeed create favorable condition for Vibrio. Researchers advise everyone to thoroughly cook shellfish before eating and avoid contacting brackish waters when they have cuts, sores or broken skin. Any signs of infection after spending time in the water should seek medical attention as early as possible.