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Diseases & Topics

Vibrio Infections

Vibrio vulnificus, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, and other Vibrio species are bacteria that live in brackish and salt water. There are more than 200 recognized species of marine (saltwater) Vibrios, but only a few species cause significant public health problems, particularly foodborne illness, skin infections and wound infections. Vibrio infections are often associated with eating raw or under-cooked shellfish such as oysters, clams, shrimp and scallops. Wound infections can occur after getting cuts and scrapes while fishing, swimming or other activities in oceans, sounds, rivers and streams.

Both types of Vibrio infections occur more frequently in summer months when water temperatures are higher and there are more bacteria living in the water. People who have underlying health problems, particularly conditions that damage the liver, are more likely to get sick and to have more severe complications once infected.

Symptoms of Vibrio food-borne infection include the normal foodborne illness symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea but may also include fever, sepsis (infection of the blood), and other severe or life-threatening conditions like shock (rapid onset of dizziness, confusion, loss of blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, loss of consciousness). Wound infections can cause pain, swelling, redness, rash, ulceration and breakdown of the skin and surrounding tissues.

Anyone who has eaten seafood or been exposed to seawater or brackish water and is experiencing severe symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

Most infections caused by Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus in the United States can be prevented by thoroughly cooking seafood, especially oysters. Wound infections can be prevented by avoiding exposure of open wounds to warm seawater, showering well after being in the water, and by promptly tending to any new wounds by immediately washing well with clean, potable (drinkable) freshwater and soap.

People who have been infected with the viruses that cause hepatitis, people with any chronic liver disease, and people whose livers have been damaged from drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs that can damage the liver, should especially avoid eating raw and undercooked oysters and other shellfish. Shellfish that have been thoroughly cooked or pressure treated are safer to eat.

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