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Global warming will increase cases of the deadly Vibrio bacterium

Among other detrimental affects occurring due to global warming, an increase in deadly Vibrio infections is one of them.

Increasing numbers of cases of the deadly Vibrio bacterium have been showing up in the news, especially in Florida, and warming seawater will only make Vibrio infections more frequent.

There are three main species of Vibrio that range in terms of symptoms and frequency of cases. V. cholera affects millions globally and is primarily due to poor sanitation. It is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis and death in developing countries.

V. parahaemolyticus is the most common species in the U.S. and is mostly associated with eating raw oysters (sometimes other raw or undercooked seafood). A small percent of people can get parahaemolyticus due to infected open wounds.

V. vulnificus is the most rare species, but the most dangerous. The people who have died in Florida were infected with vulnificus. This variety can kill someone within hours after infection.

Even though some of the people who died from vulnificus were healthy, some people are at a much higher risk than others. As Forbes pointed out, people with compromised immune systems, liver disease, especially Hepatitis C and cirrhosis, are the most at risk. Many people eat raw oysters regularly – in fact, 3.5% of the U.S. population report having eaten raw oysters during the past 7 days.

When seawater is warmer, particularly in summer months, the cases of Vibrio increase significantly, and with water temperatures continuing to go up due to global warming, the same will be true of infections. Vibrio infections are actually being interpreted as a barometer for the progress of global warming. As Forbes reported, In the U.S., the number of Vibrio cases has increased from 367 (average, 1997-99) to 908 (2010-12), a 250% increase.

So how can people avoid infection? Primarily it’s recommended that people don’t eat raw oysters (which in certain parts of the country will be a big challenge). This is especially true for those with liver disease. If you have an wounds on your hands while you’re eating or cleaning seafood, make sure to thoroughly clean it and disinfect. Also, don’t go in the ocean, particularly in summer months, if you have open wounds.

Although cases are increasing, many of those who have been infected and even died could have potentially avoided it.

Photo: Flickr user wEnDy