Cases of Flesh-eating Bacteria Increases as an Effect of Climate Change

On Monday, a report by doctors at Cooper University Hospital published in the Annals of Internal Medicine said that climate change might have led flesh-eating bacteria to unaffected water areas.

Researchers believed that increasing temperatures of water in the Delaware Bay might be the main cause of rising Vibrio vulnificus infection cases. They would happen after touching seawater or consuming or handling seafood. Those bacteria would cause necrotizing fasciitis or flesh-eating infections and diarrhea.

In the report, the experts described 5 cases of necrotizing fasciitis caused by V. vulnificus and happened from 2017 to 2018. During the 8-year period before 2017, they only witnessed one case of the possibly fatal infection.

Those cases happened after the people consumed seafood or were exposed to water from the Delaware Bay. All of them received immediate medical attention and surgery. However, one person died.

Though some variations of vibrio infections have been reported over time, the general surge in the number of cases isn’t surprising. On average, the water is a bit warmer compared to that of the past. This is especially correct in the northern areas.

However, researchers assumed that the increase in infection cases might be caused by many other factors rather than only water temperature. For example, pH, salinity, and other water elements would also be a possible trigger.

Other experts suspected that increasing water temperature is the main cause. In general, vibrios are indicative of climate change due to their sensitivity to minor temperature changes.

As the water temperature has been increasing consistently over the past few years, the rates of vibrios are also rising quickly. As a result, it leads to a surge in many foodborne illnesses or infections after touching saltwater.

There are a few species of vibrio that would affect humans. Among these, V. vulnificus is the most dangerous type as it would contract when open wounds come into contact with saltwater. This triggers necrotizing fasciitis, which is a skin infection that would damage soft tissue on the body.

If not treated quickly with antibiotics, the condition would become deadly. In many cases, the bacteria often ingested in undercooked or raw seafood.

Though vibrio infections are uncommon, they would cause sepsis and diarrhea. However, healthy people don’t have to worry about the complications as they tend to affect the elderly and children, who have compromised immune systems.


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