A dangerous carnivorous bacterium may be on the rise on some popular east coast beaches due to the warming water temperatures. In the past two years, five cases of Vibrio vulnificus of a carnivorous bacterial infection that spread when handling or consuming contaminated seafood have been associated with Delaware Bay, according to one study.  Vibrio vulnificus is usually found in salty brackish waters with surface temperatures above 13 degrees Celsius. It was typically found in the warm waters of the Gulf Coast and southern states such as Louisiana and Texas, especially in the months of May to October.
Vibrio vulnificus causes about 205 infections of the CDC estimates each year in the United States. According to the CDC, it is also important to learn more about the harmful bacteria when living in areas where hurricanes, storm surges and coastal flooding are possible. The most common cause of infection is the consumption of raw or uncooked shellfish, especially oysters.
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The bacterium is endemic to the southeastern coast of the US, but was also found in Chesapeake Bay, as the study published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. The disease rarely occurs in the cooler waters of the Delaware Bay and Jersey Shore but, according to the researchers, is becoming more common due to climate change.
The five Delaware infected patients were all treated at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NY, Jersey in the last two years. Previously, the hospital had seen only one case of severe Vibrio infection in eight years, Dr. Katherine Doktor, an infectious disease specialist at Cooper University Health Care, told CNN.
These cases serve as a warning against meat-destroying bacteria Infections now occur outside of traditional geographic boundaries, the authors said. One of the five patients died.
"For physicians who may have never seen this infection in their doctor's office, it's important to have some awareness," said Doctor, co-author of the study. The study finds that over the past three decades, sea surface temperatures have increased in many areas of the United States, leading to "longer summer seasons and … changes in the amount, distribution and seasonal windows of bacteria" has led to the coastal ecosystem providing "more favorable conditions for Vibrio".
"Although the infection is still rare, it is more commonly observed in this area," said Doctor.
The five Delaware patients had a number of different symptoms after infection. A 38-year-old man had vomiting, fever and rash on his left calf. His blood cultures confirmed a Vibrio infection, although this was already evident on his dying skin, says the study. He had not been near Delaware Bay, but it is believed that he got infected when working at a New Jersey restaurant offering seafood from the bay. A 60-year-old man had done the same and infected himself after eating a dozen crabs. In the end he had to have parts of all four limbs amputated. A 64-year-old man was infected after cutting his leg on a crab trap in Delaware Bay.
Another 64-year-old man was infected after cleaning the crabs in Delaware Bay with his hands. He finally died.
Other diseases, such as diabetes or hepatitis, made some of the men more susceptible to infection when exposed to bacteria, the study said. Health authorities recommend covering open wounds with clean, dry bandages until they heal to prevent a bacterial skin infection warns health.