Experts Warn That ‘Flesh-Eating’ Bacteria May Be Spreading to Seafood & Beaches Due to Climate Change

Last summer, there was a rise in the number of infections from deadly flesh-eating bacteria along the East Coast, according to the latest data released by the CDC. 

This rare problem, as experts warn, may become more common with the warming global temperatures as they encourage the pathogens to thrive and expand into new areas. 

Flesh-Eating Bacteria Spreading to Beaches & Seafood

Eleven individuals in New York, Connecticut, and North Carolina got infected with bacteria that live in the ocean that causes a ‘flesh-eating’ disease in July and August last year.

These infections aren’t common. They’re usually seen in older people or people with an underlying medical problem. However, they’re serious and can be fatal with four of the patients experiencing septic shock and five dying (three of those that had septic shock also died).

The patients who died from the infection had at least one medical condition. The cases in the above-mentioned months exceeded the numbers reported the year before, i.e. 2022. 

In that year, there were no reported infections in New York, Connecticut, or North Carolina. 

According to the researchers from the CDC and the state health departments, the summer infections were noteworthy for their seriousness and the fact that they coincided with the record-breaking heat waves in the US.

The Flesh-Eating Bacteria: What Is It?

The bacteria Vibrio vulnificus is known to thrive in warmer waters. It’s more likelier to proliferate and expand up the East Coast as global warming increases the ocean temperatures, according to scientists. 

This bacteria lives in moderately salty or brackish waters like coastwaters and estuaries and it needs warm weather to thrive.

People can get infected with it by eating seafood that has been contaminated or through bites, cuts, and wounds coming into contact with seawater. 

According to the researchers, a large number of the patients probably got infected from consuming raw oysters, through water, and some have probably gotten it through cuts when handling raw seafood.

If you want to avoid an infection with this bacteria, you should take the necessary steps to prevent the wounds from coming into contact with brackish water, salt water, or raw seafood. 

Contact with such waters can happen during everyday activities like fishing, swimming, or walking on the beach, according to the CDC, as well as during and after storm surges, coastal floods, and hurricanes. 

Wounds from new piercings or tattoos should always be covered with a waterproof bandage and need to be thoroughly washed after every contact with water and soap. 

V. vulnificus Explained 

In the US, there are approximately 150-200 infections with V. vulnificus every year. Most of the cases that are considerably greater in number than the serious cases in this study are reported by the states on the Gulf Coast where the waters are warmer. 

The infections have gone up along the East Coast and increased eight times in recent decades. This is mostly due to the warming temperatures that are making the waters more hospitable. 

This bacteria comes from the same family of bacteria as the pathogen associated with cholera. Although rare, the infections can be life-threatening and can cause necrotizing fasciitis or a flesh-eating infection. These infections kill as many as one in five individuals, sometimes very rapidly, within one day or two after falling ill. The mild infections cause symptoms like chills, stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Skin infections can cause blisters, tissue destruction, and swelling. The more severe cases have been linked with bloodstream infection or septicemia and can be fatal. 

When caught early and quickly, the bacteria can be treated using antibiotics although some patients may require surgery for the removal of the infected tissue or an amputation.