FIVE people have died after contracting a “flesh-eating” virus while swimming off America’s east coast.
One person in Connecticut, another in New York and three people in North Carolina died of complications from an infection between July and August this year Vibrio vulnificus.
According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is a deadly species of bacteria that lives in coastal waters.
“Many of these infections arose after an open wound was exposed to the coastal waters of these states,” the health agency wrote, but noted that some of these infections may have been caused by eating raw or undercooked seafood.
Between 150 and 200 V. vulnificus Infections are reported to the CDC every year, and about one in five people with the infection die, “sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill.”
Though the bacteria is naturally found in coastal waters, this summer’s heatwaves and “above-average coastal sea surface temperatures” have meant the species has thrived on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
The CDC explained that extreme weather events such as coastal flooding, hurricanes and storm surges can cause coastal waters to encroach into inland areas, putting people exposed to those waters at increased risk of the deadly flesh-eating infection.
In fact, that’s what happened in Florida last year after Hurricane Ian, the CDC found.
Clouds of brown algae are permeated V. vulnificus began covering beaches in South Florida in June. Holidaymakers and beachgoers have been warned to stay away from the seaweed for fear of life-threatening “flesh-eating” infections.
The CDC urged beachgoers to take a number of precautions to protect themselves.
First, they advised you not to take a bath or wade through salt and brackish water — a mix of fresh water and sea water — if you have an open wound or cut.
These include wounds from recent surgery, piercings, tattoos, and other cuts or scrapes, the CDC noted.
If you cut yourself in the water, you should get out immediately.
You should wash your cuts thoroughly with soap and clean, running water.
And if there’s any chance your pieces might come in contact with brackish or salt water — or drips from raw or undercooked seafood — you should cover them completely with a waterproof bandage.
Her guidance also extended to handling and cooking seafood, which can also carry the deadly bacteria.
The CDC recommends that you cook oysters and shellfish raw before enjoying them and always wash your hands after handling them raw.
If your sores become infected, it’s important to see a doctor right away.
signs of a Vibrio vulnificus infection
Vibrio can also enter the bloodstream through a tear in the skin and, in rare cases, cause a “flesh-eating” infection called necrotizing fasciitis.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects tissues under the skin and surrounding muscles and organs.
The bacteria can spread in a matter of hours – even from a small cut or scrape – and are life-threatening if not treated in time.
People can also get sick from eating seafood that contains the bacteria.
According to the CDC, early symptoms of a vibrio Infections include:
- Watery diarrhea and stomach cramps
- fever and chills
- blistering of the skin, which may appear as black dots
- Low blood pressure
- Pain, swelling, or warmth around an infected wound
According to the NHS, the first symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis include:
- Severe pain or loss of feeling near a cut or wound – the pain can seem much worse than you would normally expect from a cut or wound
- swelling of the skin around the affected area
- Flu-like symptoms such as high fever, headache and fatigue
Later symptoms may include:
- nausea (vomiting) and diarrhea
- Black, purple, or gray spots and blisters on the skin (these may be less visible on black or tan skin)