Climate change could be causing flesh-eating bacteria to spread in warming oceans
A new report says deadly bacteria that thrives in warm water could spread rapidly in coming years
Warmer oceans caused by climate change may be hosting a growing number of flesh-eating bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus, according to a new Scientific Reports article published Thursday.
The article says researchers studied the bacteria for 30 years, and found that in the Eastern U.S., the bacteria had multiplied eightfold.
Vibrio vulnificus — which flourishes in warm, slightly salty water — has a high sensitivity to temperature, leading many scientists to believe they can track climate change impacts on a microbial level by tracing the bacteria’s whereabouts, the article says.
Professor Iain Lake, one of the authors of the study, told NBC News that he called “V. vulnificus ‘a nasty little bug,’ because infections spread rapidly and the bacterium can severely damage a person’s flesh.” He also said 1 of every 5 cases are deadly, and many patients need amputations to survive.
NBC News noted that while infections from the flesh-eating bacteria are rare, the study adds to an expanding pool of research connecting public health risks to changes in our environment, all contributing to a bigger picture: “human health and the health of the planet are inextricably linked.”
A Vibrio vulnificus infection
Infections of Vibrio vulnificus can occur when small cuts or wounds are exposed to the bacteria, or when eating raw shellfish, per Time.
The article added that “eating infected shellfish can cause diarrhea vomiting, fever and chills, while infected wounds can lead to serious skin infections. There is no strong evidence that antibiotics can control the infection, but doctors may prescribe them in some cases.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said symptoms of a Vibrio vulnificus infection can also include stomach cramping, leaking fluids like discharge, extremely low blood pressure, redness, discoloration and blistering skin lesions.
The CDC added that preventing an infection includes staying out of salt water and treating skin wounds appropriately with water and soap.
The Scientific Reports article said studies show climate change will “increase the suitability and distribution of pathogenic Vibrio species particularly at high latitudes.”
The Deseret News has reported on the current climate situation, noting the world is not on track to meet the goal of reducing the global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement: “The climate time-bomb is ticking,” and, “Humanity is on thin ice — and that ice is melting fast,” as reported by CNN.