If you live or visit anywhere along the coastline, you’ve likely seen headlines warning of increased cases of Texas beachgoers encountering vibrio this summer. This bacteria is known as Vibrio vulnificus and it exists naturally in marine and estuarine environments throughout the world, including the warm coastal waters of Texas and some inland brackish lakes of the United States.
Several Vibrio species are known to cause vibriosis infection in humans and all can be found in higher concentrations in the warmer months of the year. Vibrio can cause an infection of the skin when an open wound is exposed to warm seawater. It can also cause gastrointestinal illness in people who eat raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters. People with underlying conditions, especially liver disease, diabetes or other immune-suppressing conditions may be at increased risk of infection and about 80 percent of infections occur in the summer months.
There are many tips for reducing your risk of vibriosis. If you have a recent wound (including fresh tattoos and piercings), stay out of brackish or saltwater, or cover your wound with a waterproof bandage if you think it may come in contact with such water, shellfish or raw seafood juices. If you suffer a cut while swimming in natural bodies of water, immediately leave the water and thoroughly clean the wound. Do not return until the wound heals. If you are in a group more at risk for vibriosis, be sure to wear clothes or shoes that can protect you from cuts and scrapes when in salt or brackish water, and always wear protective gloves when handling raw seafood.
If you develop signs of a skin infection such as a rash or swelling or any gastrointestinal symptoms after eating raw or undercooked seafood, seek immediate medical attention and let your medical provider know that you have come into contact with salty or brackish water, or recently ingested raw seafood. Although early symptoms of vibriosis can be treated with oral medication, more severe cases may require hospitalization, IV antibiotics, and if wounds are present, surgical evaluations.
Overall, while vibriosis is a very serious condition, experts say that coastal citizens shouldn’t be scared, but remain aware of the risks involved. Staying in the know about vibrio can further ensure an enjoyable and safe beach visit this year!
Texas Shorelines is a service of the Texas Sea Grant College Program at Texas A&M University. Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 34 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.