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How the ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria that has the United States on alert is spread

A deadly bacteria keeps the United States on alert. According to the Florida Department of Health, at least five people have died this year in cases related to this bacteria and the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have notified health institutions that its presence has spread. along the east coast of the country and the Gulf of Mexico.

This is the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, known as the “flesh-eater”, which thrives in warmer summer waters and low-salt marine environments, such as estuaries. Additionally, it can be found in raw fish and shellfish.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 150 and 200 Vibrio vulnificus infections are reported each year, and about one in five people with this infection die, sometimes within one to two days of becoming ill.

The scientific committee of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (Aesan) describes it as “a virulent and lethal opportunist for certain human risk groups, with a mortality rate that can exceed 50% (Jones and Oliver, 2009) reaching even 90% in cases of severe hypotension.

How it is spread

The main route of infection is usually the ingestion of contaminated fish or shellfish, but the bacteria can also cause an infection by entering through an open wound due to contact with contaminated water or as a result of handling infected food, as Aesan points out.


Signs and symptoms of a Vibrio vulnificus infection may include watery diarrhea, accompanied by stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. In the case of bloodstream infections, it can cause fever, chills, dangerously low blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions. While in the case of wound infections, which could spread to the rest of the body, it can cause fever, redness, pain, swelling, a feeling of heat, discoloration and discharge (fluid that comes out of the wound).

These symptoms generally appear within 24 hours after infection, as noted by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But one of the effects that the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus can have, and for which it is commonly known as “flesh-eating” bacteria, is necrotizing fasciitis, a rare infection that spreads through the subcutaneous cellular tissue and fascia (network of banded connective tissue that wraps all the internal parts of the body from head to toe and fuses everything together), and which can cause death.

The infection usually begins in an area of ​​the body with a localized wound, such as surgical incisions, penetrating wounds or minor injuries (cuts or burns), or non-penetrating wounds such as a blunt force blow or pulled muscle, as stated in a report from the Department of Health. from Louisiana. From there, it can spread and destroy muscle tissue.

Who can get infected

Anyone can become infected, but people at highest risk are those with weakened immune defenses, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation; transplanted people; severe diabetics, or patients with chronic joint diseases being treated with immunosuppressive medications.