Jun 24, 2015

Warning to Florida Beachgoers: Watch Out for Vibrio Vulnificus Infections


By on 3:20 PM

The Florida Department of Health (DOH) is reminding visitors to the state's beaches to take proper precautions to reduce the risk of contracting infections due to the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium.

The DOH stated that there have been eight reported cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections in 2015 through June 12, which include two deaths.

According to the DOH, Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that normally lives in warm seawater and is part of a group of vibrios that are called 'halophilic' because they require salt. It is a naturally occurring bacteria in warm, brackish seawater, and infections are rare.

According to an online resource about Vibrio vulnificus developed by the DOH, people can become infected with Vibrio vulnificus when they eat raw shellfish, particularly oysters. The bacterium is frequently isolated from oysters and other shellfish in warm coastal waters during the summer months. Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater. The infection is diagnosed by stool, wound, or blood cultures. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of Vibrio vulnificus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among healthy people, ingestion of Vibrio vulnificus can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. In immunocompromised persons, particularly those with chronic liver disease, Vibrio vulnificus can infect the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock) and blistering skin lesions. Vibrio vulnificus bloodstream infections are fatal about 50% of the time.

There are a number of cooking-related tips for preventing Vibrio vulnificus infections, including not eating raw oysters or other raw shellfish, and wearing protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish. For beachgoers, the DOH recommends the following:
  • Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters.
  • Individuals who are immunocompromised (e.g., chronic liver disease, kidney disease, weakened immune system) should wear proper foot protection to prevent cuts and injury caused by rocks and shells on the beach.
Healthcare professionals are advised to have a high suspicion for this organism when patients present with stomach illness, fever or shock following the ingestion of raw seafood, especially oysters, or with a wound infection after exposure to seawater. If Vibrio vulnificus is suspected, treatment should be initiated immediately because antibiotics improve survival. Aggressive attention should be given to the wound site; for patients with wound infections, amputation of the infected limb is sometimes necessary.

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is the founder and president of Infection Control Consulting Services LLC (ICCS), which is based in Delray Beach, Florida. Phenelle has more than 30 years experience providing customized comprehensive infection control and prevention services to healthcare facilities nationwide. Her services focus on assisting hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dental office and oral surgery practices, doctor's offices, nursing homes to implement and maintain an infection control program that: complies with The Joint Commission (TJC), Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and other regulatory agencies, respond to situations of noncompliance, and improve the processes for reducing risk.

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