Frequently Asked Questions about Vibrio in Florida

vibrio

Vibrio under a scope. Source: CDC

Two recent deaths in Florida have raised concern about the saltwater-dwelling bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus. MOST HEALTHY INDIVIDUALS ARE NOT AT RISK FOR V. vulnificus INFECTION, however, to ensure that your time on the water is safe and enjoyable, be aware of your risk and take steps to minimize becoming infected.

What are Vibrio?

The name Vibrio refers to a large and diverse group of marine bacteria. Most members are harmless, however, some strains produce harmful toxins and are capable of causing a disease known as “vibriosis.”

When and where are Vibrio found?

Because of Florida’s warm climate, Vibrio are present in brackish waters year-round. They are most abundant from April to November when the water is the warmest.

How can people become infected?

For infection to occur, pathogenic Vibrio strains must enter the body of a susceptible individual who either eats raw and contaminated seafood or exposes an open wound for a prolonged period in water containing these bacteria.

Who is at risk for infection?

Most people are not. A healthy immune system will combat infection. However, people with weakened immune systems can develop life-threatening infections.

Are Vibrio really “flesh-eating” bacteria?

NO! Vibrio cannot break down healthy, intact skin on contact, even if the skin is exposed for long periods of time. For infection to occur, the bacteria must actually enter the body through prolonged exposure of an open, unhealed wound or be consumed in raw seafood.

What are the symptoms of a wound infection from Vibrio?

Symptoms of vibriosis may arise within 1–3 days, but usually occur a few hours after exposure. Infections typically begin with swelling and redness of skin, followed by severe pain, blistering, and discharge at the site of the wound. As the infection progresses, tissue necrosis, fever, chills, low blood pressure, shock, and death may occur, especially if the infection spreads to the bloodstream.

Are there specific safety tips for anglers?

  • Because fish carry Vibrio on their bodies, avoid or minimize handling whenever possible.
  • Decide ahead of time what you intend to keep, and release unwanted fish right away.
  • The proper use of landing gear and release tools can help to minimize handling.
  • If you cannot avoid handling the fish, use a wet towel or gloves to protect yourself. Be aware of areas that can cause injury like spines, barbs, and teeth.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after fishing, especially before handling food. Be sure to clean your gear after each use, taking special care with sharp objects like hooks and knives.
  • Live bait can also carry Vibrio. Use caution when hooking or handling, paying attention to areas that can inflict injuries like spines, shells, and claws.
  • Bait buckets can be reservoirs for Vibrio because they accumulate bacteria from bait produced waste. Do not overstock the container and be sure to change its water frequently. Use a handnet to retrieve bait and never submerge wounds.

Adapted from: Abeels, H., G. Barbarite, A. Wright, and P. McCarthy. 2016. Frequently Asked Questions about Vibrio in Florida. SGEF-231.  https://eos.ucs.uri.edu/EOS_Linked_Documents/flsgp/SGEF_231_fact-sheet_2016.pdf

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