Surge of Flesh-Eating Bacteria Cases in the United States | Credits: Getty Images
Surge of Flesh-Eating Bacteria Cases in the United States | Credits: Getty Images

Unprecedented Surge of Flesh-Eating Bacteria Cases in the US

United States: Amid the surging temperatures unfolding conspicuously along the Eastern seaboard, marked by tempests and wildfires, a latent peril has clandestinely emerged, eluding the unaided eye: a virulent strain of flesh-eating bacteria.

What is occurring?

According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released by the CDC in February, seven individuals in North Carolina and two in New York and Connecticut fell grievously ill with Vibrio vulnificus in the months of July and August.

This aquatic and alimentary pathogen, thriving in coastal waters, possesses the potential to induce necrotizing fasciitis – a condition wherein tissues perish – upon contact with an exposed wound. Ingesting the bacteria through the consumption of raw or undercooked seafood may lead to sepsis and gastrointestinal complications, including watery diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

The CDC postulated that six of the afflicted contracted the ailment through exposure of wounds to marine or estuarine waters. Two others incurred cuts on their hands while handling raw seafood during food preparation. Of the final two individuals who disclosed their exposure, both indulged in raw oysters, with one sustaining a wound exposed to brackish water. The age range of the affected individuals spanned from 37 to 84.

Moreover, four out of the 11 patients suffered septic shock, and five succumbed to the infection.

Why does the surge in V. vulnificus incidents warrant concern?

The escalation in V. vulnificus cases is no fortuity, aligning with the culmination of the hottest summer on record, as documented by the World Meteorological Organization. The microorganism thrives in elevated temperatures.

“A salient aspect of these cases, apart from their grave clinical consequences, is their occurrence in the aftermath of unprecedented U.S. heatwaves,” as articulated in the report. “While these cases reported in July–August cannot be exclusively attributed to the heatwaves, the correlation between vibriosis incidence and environmental conditions conducive to Vibrio growth, specifically heightened water surface temperatures and low salinity, is well-documented.”

Despite North Carolina witnessing up to 13 V. vulnificus cases annually from 2021 to 2023, Connecticut reported none from 2021-22, and New York registered merely three cases in 2021 and none in 2022.

How can the upswing in V. vulnificus cases be addressed?

The report proffers proactive guidelines to residents of the region to safeguard themselves. It suggests, “Individuals can mitigate the risk of illness by refraining from wound exposure to brackish water, saltwater, and raw seafood, and by meticulously cooking oysters and other seafood before consumption.”