This year, has already seen a multi-state outbreak of gastrointestinal illnesses caused by infected oyster imports. But the same pathogenic bacteria that can make seafood enthusiasts ill could also be found at your local beach.
What is Vibrio Vulnificus?
Vibrio are a type of bacteria normally found in saltwater and brackish water. There are over 20 different Vibrio species linked to vibriosis, and additional strains linked to cholera. (1)
According to the most recent estimates, vibriosis is the cause of 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the USA each year, with most infections happening between May and October, as people flock to the beach for summer (and when warmer temperatures provide a better environment for the bacteria). (2) V. vulnificus is among the most common strains of the bacteria in the USA.
People can get vibriosis from consuming undercooked shellfish, but also through open wounds during a day at the beach.
“They can be in the sand. They can be in any surface,” dermatologist, Dr. Maria Hicks told WFLA news. (3)
“If there’s a cut, if there’s trauma, it’s very easy that that happens on the beach or running around, then make sure that you go and wash it with soap and water. “Life is there [at the beach] and now cases are happening but it doesn’t mean that it happens to everybody,” said Hicks. (3)
Symptoms of Vibrio Vulnificus Infection
The following symptoms typically occur within 24 hours of bacteria exposure by ingestion and last about three days: (4)
- watery diarrhea
- abdominal cramping
If exposed to the bacteria via a wound, symptoms manifest as spreading soft tissue infections. (5)
For people with liver disease, there is an additional risk of blood infection developing. (5)
If medical attention for an infection is not sought in time, amputation could become necessary. About 1 in 5 people with an advanced infection die, even within days of becoming infected. (5)
Vibrio Vulnificus Prevention
First, avoid consuming raw or undercooked shellfish such as oysters, scallops, mussels, crab, lobster, and shrimp.
If you’re preparing seafood, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, and avoid cross contamination with other food and cooking surfaces.
If you have any cuts or wounds, skip beach day. Dr. Maria Hicks also recommends avoiding shaving a couple of days before going to the beach, to avoid getting small nicks infected.
If you or anyone in your family does happen to injure themselves at the beach, wash the wound as soon as you can with soap and warm water, and keep it away from sand and water.
Make a habit of showering with soap as soon as you can after leaving the beach.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.