At least three people have died in Connecticut and New York after contracting a rare flesh-eating bacteria that can be found in warm, brackish waters or raw shellfish, officials confirmed Wednesday.
Two people in Connecticut became infected with Vibrio vulnificus and died after swimming in two separate locations on Long Island Sound, according to Christopher Boyle, director of communications for the state’s Department of Public Health.
According to the Department of Public Health, a third person was infected in July after eating raw oysters from an out-of-state establishment. According to the department, all three were between 60 and 80 years old.
What to Know About Flesh-Eating Bacteria Vibrio Vulnificus, and How to Avoid It
The bacteria has also been detected in an individual who died in Long Island, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday. Officials are still investigating the death in Suffolk County to determine whether the bacteria was encountered in New York waters or elsewhere, according to the news release.
Vibrio vulnificus comes from the same family as the bacteria that causes cholera.
A mild case of the bacterial infection vibriosis can cause skin wounds, blisters, abscesses and ulcers. It typically includes chills, fever, diarrhea, stomach pain and possibly vomiting. In more severe cases, people can develop septicemia. This is more common for those with underlying health conditions, particularly liver disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV or other diseases that suppress the immune system.
Anyone can get vibriosis, but people with an open wound, such as a cut or scrape, a recent piercing or a new tattoo, should avoid exposing skin to warm seawater in coastal environments or cover the area with a waterproof bandage, the news release says.
Doctors say it is important to seek treatment quickly if you develop a skin infection after possible exposure to the bacteria.
Vibrio vulnificus causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials Advising People to Be Cautious
Officials from Connecticut and New York are advising people to take precautions before consuming raw oysters or being exposed to salty or brackish water.
“People should consider the potential risk of consuming raw oysters and exposure to salt or brackish water and take appropriate precautions,” Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, said in a news release on July 28. “Particularly during the hottest months of the summer, bacteria are more likely to overgrow and contaminate raw shellfish.”
New York’s Governor Echoed Those Sentiments Wednesday
“While rare, the vibrio bacteria has unfortunately made it to this region and can be extraordinarily dangerous,” Hochul said. “As we investigate further, it is critical that all New Yorkers stay vigilant and take responsible precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including protecting open wounds from seawater and for those with compromised immune systems, avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish which may carry the bacteria.”
Connecticut routinely monitors oyster harvest areas statewide for vibrio levels in the summer, and since 2014, the state has added to its requirements for oyster harvesting.
In part, oyster harvesters are required to shade oysters while on a vessel and in high-risk areas, and harvested oysters must be placed in an ice slurry to drop the internal temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit within three hours of harvest, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture.
Caregivers, please be careful!
Stay safe out there.