Health officials in Florida have reported eight cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections, including two deaths, thus far in 2015. The cases were reported across seven counties and occurred on both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts . As we enter the summer months, the 2015 case count appears to be on par with past years. In 2014, Florida reported a total of 32 Vibrio vulnificus infections, seven of which resulted in death . Vibrio vulnificus infections are not isolated to Florida; cases have been reported from all of the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico . The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports an average of 50 Vibrio vulnificus cases from the Gulf Coast Region each year, and a national average of up to 96 cases per year .
What Is It?
Vibrio vulnificus is a gram-negative bacterium, found in warm seawater, which affects only humans and primates . It belongs to the same family as the bacteria that cause cholera and Vibrio parahaemolyticus . Vibrio vulnificus infection can result from foodborne contamination or exposure to the bacteria in seawater by way of open wounds. The majority of cases are a result of the consumption of raw or undercooked seafood, although there have been growing reports of wound-related illness . There has been no evidence of Vibrio vulnificus being transmitted person-to-person .
If Vibrio vulnificus exposure occurs through ingestion, gastrointestinal symptoms generally appear 16-38 hours after consumption . The most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever . If the infection is by way of open wound, the wound may become worse, ulcerate and lead to tissue death .
Where Does It Come From?
The first case of Vibrio vulnificus infection was identified in 1979 . It is a naturally occurring bacterium, with cases having been reported internationally . Although rare, officials suspect that Vibrio vulnificus cases are underreported. Prior to 2007, the CDC did not require Vibrio vulnificus cases to be reported to state and national health departments. Now, Vibrio vulnificus is part of the national notifiable disease list, for which there is a national surveillance system .
Should I Be Concerned?
Vibrio vulnificus infection is rare. The majority of cases result from consumption of raw seafood and, in healthy individuals, lead to mild gastrointestinal illness – hence why it is believed to go underreported. However, Vibrio vulnificus infections occur most often in individuals with underlying medical conditions and/or are immuno-compromised. For this population, Vibrio vulnificus infection can be very serious. It is reported to have a case-fatality rate of 50% and stands as the United States’ leading cause of seafood-related deaths . Individuals infected with Vibrio vulnificus are treated with antibiotics, and treatment should be initiated as soon as possible .
In order to reduce your, or someone you love’s, risk of becoming infected with Vibrio vulnificus please adhere to the following precautions: do not consume raw or undercooked shellfish; avoid contact with seawater when you have open wounds or cuts; and wear gloves when handling raw shellfish .