Vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria, is found in shallow, warm and coastal salt waters in temperate climates in most parts of the world.
The bacteria belongs to the Vibrio cholerae family and may be found in water, plankton, sediment and shellfish including clams, oysters and crabs. These organisms that infect humans and other primates are capable of causing a potentially fatal infection in the host.
In September, one such infection claimed the life of a man in Ocean City in Maryland in less than a week. Michael Funk acquired the flesh-eating bacteria possibly while cleaning crab pots. V. vulnificus entered Funk's body through a cut wound in his leg.
In just a couple of days after infection Funk suffered ulceration and lesions. The bacteria spread through the bloodstream and as a result, Funk's health deteriorated rapidly. When Funk was taken to the hospital he was diagnosed of V. vulnificus infection and had the infected tissues removed immediately. Even then the infection could not be contained and he eventually had his leg amputated. However, no treatment helped and Funk died on Sept. 15, just four days after contracting the deadly bacteria.
V. vulnificus infection is caused when seafood contaminated with the organism is ingested or when the bacteria comes into contact with cut or open wounds. Usually symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain are experienced within 16 hours of infection in healthy individuals. While most people also develop skin lesions, individuals with a compromised immune system may suffer immunosuppression, chronic liver disease, hematopoietic disorders and end-stage renal disease.
Flesh-eating bacteria may also cause potentially fatal septic shock and skin lesions in infected individuals, and immunocompromised people are at increased risk of fatality. People with cancer, liver disease, diabetes, thalassemia and HIV may face severe complications upon infection with Vibrio.
In order to avoid infection, one should make sure not to consume raw shellfish such as oysters. People with cut and open wounds are also advised to stay away from warm brackish or salt water. In case of exposure, the cuts should be washed properly with soap and water. Individuals should seek immediate medical assistance if they develop symptoms of skin infection, noted the CDC.
"Most V. vulnificus infections are acute but have no long-term consequences; however, in patients who develop septic shock from infection with V. vulnificus, the mortality rate is 50 percent. In rare instances, skin infection can result in necrotizing fasciitis. V. vulnificus necrotizing skin and soft tissue infections may result in multiple organ failure and death. A prediction model to estimate the case-fatality rate has been proposed," reported Medscape.