A rare flesh-eating bacteria is on the rise in the Eastern United States, according to a new study that was published this week. The analysis, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that infections caused by the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, aka “flesh-eating bacteria”, have risen from 10 cases per year in the late 1980s to 80 cases per year in 2018.
The bacteria normally thrive in warm waters, which means that infections tend to accumulate along the southern coast. Rising temperatures, partly due to climate change, however, have made it possible for the bacteria to thrive in the northern waters- as north as Philadelphia. According to the study, it’s currently moving northward approximately 48 kilometers a year.
Experts predict that flesh-eating bacteria infections may reach New York in two or three decades, as the temperature continues to go up. As a result, the number of infections will also double each year.
About Vibrio Infections
Vibrio vulnificus typically affects those that eat raw shellfish, such as raw oysters, that are contaminated with the bacteria. Symptoms include cramping and watery diarrhea, which typically lasts for a few days.
Rarely, the bacteria can enter the body through a wound in the skin (e.g. insect bite, piercing) and cause an infection. In some cases, it can lead to necrotizing fasciitis aka a “flesh-eating infection”. Those who are immunocompromised, such as seniors above the age of 65, are also at a higher risk for death or severe disease.
A rare condition, it spreads rapidly through the body and can be fatal if the individual does not receive immediate medical treatment.
Early signs of necrotizing fasciitis include red, swollen skin, fever, and pain that radiates from the inflamed area. As the condition progresses, it can also cause black spots or blisters to appear on the skin. Symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, and fatigue may also occur.
Those diagnosed with the infection must be treated with IV antibiotics immediately. If too much time has passed, blood flow to the area, such as a limb, will stop, which will require amputation to remove the consumed dead tissue.
Other rare complications of the infection include shock, sepsis, organ failure, and severe scarring. Up to one in five cases are deadly with fatality rates at approximately 18 percent. In fact, it’s not uncommon for individuals to die from the infection within 48 hours after exposure to the bacteria if left untreated.
Other Diseases Are Spreading Due to Climate Change
Warmed waters from climate change have also allowed Naegleria fowleri, aka the brain-eating amoeba. to spread to northern waters. Unlike the flesh-eating bacteria, however, it can only survive in freshwater, meaning that it’s typically found in rivers and lakes. However, the associated infection affects the brain and is almost always fatal, even with treatment.