Flesh-Eating Bacteria Spreads to East Coast Beaches, Infecting People Crabbing in Delaware Bay

The bacteria affected people with underlying conditions who ate or handled crabs from the Delaware Bay

Delaware Bay
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A flesh-eating bacteria has made its way up the coast to the Delaware Bay, possibly thanks to increasingly warm water temperatures, researchers warn in a new study.

Vibrio vulnificus is typically found in the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, as it lives in temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a study by New Jersey researchers published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

But it’s slowly headed north, and between 2017-2018, infected five people who either ate seafood from the Delaware Bay or went crabbing near the bay between Delaware and New Jersey.

All of the patients who contracted vibrio vulnificus also had existing conditions, according to the study, and the Centers for Disease Control says those with compromised immune systems, like those with chronic liver disease, are most at risk.

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Of the five patients, there was one fatality, a 64-year-old man who contracted an infection after cleaning Delaware Bay crabs with his hands, according to CBS News.

Other injuries include a man who had all four limbs amputated after eating a dozen crabs, and a man who became infected after he cut his leg on a crab trap.

“We believe that clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections are occurring more frequently outside traditional geographic areas,” the authors wrote in the report, according to CBS.

There was just one case of infection in the area from 2008-2016, according to CNN.

The CDC warns that people can become infected by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters. It also encourages swimmers with open wounds to avoid salt water or brackish water, a mixture of fresh and salt, to avoid skin infections.

The agency estimates that one in seven people who contract vibrio vulnificus die, and that there are about 205 infections in the U.S. each year.

For those with a mild case, it’ll typically go away in three days with no lasting effects. More serious cases can lead to limb amputation.

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