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Flesh-Eating Bacteria Spreading In More Beaches As Oceans Get Warmer

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Scientists chalk up another harmful effect of climate change in new research that shows the warming ocean is causing the proliferation of a flesh-eating bacteria.

The bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, which causes a number of flesh-eating infections, is finding new homes in a number of warming beaches. This means the cases of infection could begin to rise significantly in the future.

Climate Affects Frequency Of Vibrio Cases

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers said that vibrios infections are occurring in places outside regular geographic boundaries. The team analyzed five cases of bacterial infection from Vibrio vulnificus, all of them linked to Delaware Bay where water temperature have been rising in recent years.

According to the study authors, there have been significant increases in the sea surface temperatures in the United States over the past three decades. The changing climate provides more favorable conditions for the Vibrio bacteria. While the infection is still rare, it's occurring in greater frequency in the often cooler Delaware Bay.

More Vibrio Cases At The Cooper University Hospital

Study coauthor Katherine Doktor told CNN that Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey saw only one patient suffering from severe Vibrio infection in eight years prior to 2017. Then just in a span of two years, the hospital received five infected patients with one of them dying from the infection.

The first patient, 38, admitted for Vibrio at the Cooper University Hospital hasn't been near Delaware Bay, but he worked at a New Jersey restaurant possibly serving seafood from the bay. The second patient went to the hospital after cleaning and eating Delaware Bay crabs, while the third got infected getting injured from crabbing at the bay. The fourth one also went crabbing, which resulted in all four limbs getting "mummified" and eventually requiring amputation. Finally, the most recent patient injured his leg on a crab trap at the bay with the infection causing lesions on his arm that led to shock.

Doktor explained that all five patients also had risk factors, such as open wounds, liver disease, and diabetes, when they were exposed to the bacteria. People with a compromised immune system or liver disease are more likely to get infected and severe complications.

CDC said that people usually get infected in the United States by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, especially oysters. Vibrio vulnificus also often causes skin infections when open wounds are exposed to contaminated brackish or salt water.

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