An Eastern Shore Maryland fisherman died from a rare bacterial blood infection caused when an open wound on his body came in contact with contaminated marine life or saltwater, health authorities said.
Dr. Ann H. Webb, deputy health officer for Talbot County, refused to release details about the death caused by Vibrio vulnificus, saying that she wanted to protect the privacy of the patient’s family. But Webb did say that the fisherman was healthy until a skin abrasion became infected while he was fishing in July on the Chesapeake Bay.
“It’s very rare, and it shouldn’t cause any panic,” Webb told The (Baltimore) Sun. “But we’d like to make people aware that when the Bay temperature rises, they should not eat raw seafood. And, if they go swimming, they should not have any open lesions, and they should rinse themselves off well after they leave the water.”
The last confirmed death from Vibrio in Maryland occurred more than a quarter-century ago, health experts said.
Although fatal, Vibrio infections are rare in the Chesapeake region. About 100 people a year nationally become sick from the bacteria when they eat raw oysters or touch contaminated fish or crabs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 38 percent of the people who contract Vibrio infections die.
“The most important thing is that if anybody receives a wound at the seashore, they should wash it carefully,” said John Painter, an epidemiologist with the CDC. “If they see any changes in the wound, they should go to a physician,” who should culture the bacteria and consider treatment with antibiotics, he said.
V. vulnificus is a naturally occurring, waterborne bacteria similar to the germ that causes cholera. Vibrio is commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico and other warm bodies of saltwater, reproducing more as temperatures rise.
It normally causes serious problems only to people with weakened immune systems, according to Rita Colwell, a microbiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Vibrio is notorious for getting into wounds, and once it gets into the blood system, it’s devastating. It essentially liquefies the internal organs,” she said.
The last confirmed death from Vibrio in Maryland occurred in September 1979, according to Colwell and a Sun article from the time.