Climate change may have given rise to flesh-eating bacteria in previously unaffected waters, doctors suggested.
In a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers noted that Vibrio vulnificus infection cases increased in the Delaware Bay, in the U.S. East Coast, due to warming water temperatures.
Vibrio vulnificus is a flesh-eating bacterial infection that is spread by handling or eating contaminated seafood, or by coming into contact with seawater. The deadly type of V. vulnificus is usually contracted when an open wound comes into contact with coastal salt water.
This bacteria is typically found in warm waters as it lives in temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius).
“As a result of our experience, we believe clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections are occurring more frequently outside traditional geographic areas,” an infectious disease specialist at Cooper University Health Care, Dr. Katherine Doktor, said in a statement provided to NBC News.
“The seawater is slightly warmer on average compared to what they have been in the past. This is particularly true in the northern waters. So I think we’re probably seeing some higher incidences of disease in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast,” chair of the department of Aquatic Health Sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who was not a part of the new report, Kimberly Reece, stated.
“Vibrios are in many ways a poster child for climate change, because they are very sensitive to small changes in [water] temperature. Given the consistent global increase in water temperature, we are seeing increasing rates of this particular pathogen. That can be translated in increasing numbers of foodborne illness, such as oysters, or in wound infections after contact with saltwater,” director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, who was also not involved with the new research, Dr. Glenn Morris, indicated.