Vibrio Vulnificus Infection

Vibrio vulnificus is a germ (bacteria) that normally lives in warm seawater. Infections are most common among people who visit or live in one of the Gulf Coast states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas).

CAUSES

Infection occurs when a person eats seafood that is contaminated with the bacteria. Infection can also occur when an open wound is exposed to seawater that contains the bacteria.

People who have a weakened immune system (immunocompromised) are at risk for severe illness when they eat raw seafood. This is especially true with oysters. People who also have long-lasting (chronic) liver disease have an even higher risk. The bacteria is often found in oysters and other shellfish in warm coastal waters during the summer. It is also found in warm marine waters. There is no evidence that the bacteria can be spread from person to person (noncontagious).

SYMPTOMS

In healthy people, ingestion of this bacteria can cause:

  • Vomiting.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Stomach pain.

In immunocompromised people, especially those with chronic liver disease, the ingested bacteria can invade the bloodstream. This can cause a severe, life-threatening illness. Symptoms of this illness include fever, chills, decreased blood pressure (shock), and blistering skin sores (lesions). These bloodstream infections are life-threatening about 50% of the time. Fortunately, it is a rare disease.

This bacteria can also cause a skin infection when open wounds are exposed to warm seawater. This can result in skin breakdown and ulcers. People with a weakened immune system are at higher risk for the bacteria to invade further, into the bloodstream. Their risk is higher for possible life-threatening complications.

DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosis involves stool, wound, or blood tests. A caregiver may suspect the infection if the patient has a:

  • Gastrointestinal illness after eating raw seafood, especially oysters.

  • Wound infection after being exposed to seawater.

A caregiver may especially suspect the infection if an immunocompromised patient has one of the above signs and has fever, chills, shock, or blistering skin lesions.

TREATMENT

This infection is treated with medicines that kill germs (antibiotics). After successful treatment, there are usually no long-term problems.

PREVENTION

  • Do not eat raw oysters or other raw shellfish. This is especially important if you have a weakened immune system or liver disease.

  • Cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly.

  • For shellfish in the shell:

  • Boil until the shells open. Continue boiling for 5 more minutes.

  • Steam until the shells open. Continue cooking for 9 more minutes.

  • Do not eat those shellfish that do not open during cooking.

  • Boil shucked oysters for at least 3 minutes, or fry them in oil for at least 10 minutes at 375° F (190.6° C).

  • Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and raw seafood juices.

  • Eat shellfish right away after cooking. Refrigerate leftovers.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as gloves, when handling raw shellfish.

  • Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm seawater.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Follow all your caregiver's instructions.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Symptoms seem to be getting worse rather than better or new symptoms develop.

  • You have questions or concerns.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

You are immunocompromised in any way and:

  • You have an oral temperature above 102° F (38.9° C), not controlled by medicine.

  • You have stomach discomfort or diarrhea after eating raw seafood.

  • You develop a skin infection after being exposed to seawater.