Health officials in Alabama are warning that state’s residents not to get into any body of water if they have cuts or abrasions. The warning was issued after multiple investigations turned up at least 30 cases of vibriosis in the past year.
Vibrio bacteria are most often associated with food poisonings, where the germs are most often introduced to the body in uncooked or undercooked shellfish. But they can also contaminate drinking water; one Vibrio species causes the disease cholera.
But the main concern in Alabama right now is neither food poisoning nor cholera–it is soft-tissue infections caused by the pathogens entering the body through broken skin. People with certain medical conditions, like diabetes, or those with reduced immune function are especially at risk but even healthy people can develop serious infections, warn experts.
The officials behind this advisory have not identified the exact Vibrio species that are worrying doctors. Several species live naturally in the state’s brackish waters and its warm gulf bays and coves. But the officials behind this advisory caution anyone with open cuts, abrasions, sores or wounds to stay out of such waters completely. And if you’re injured while in the water, they advise, you should immediately wash the wound with soap and fresh water. For very deep cuts or for any wound or sore that shows signs of infection, you are urged to seek medical attention right away.
The US Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, estimate that the dozen or so Vibrio species known to sicken people in the US affect about 80,000 people a year. Most of those infections are contracted from May through October, when our waters are warmest.
Most people who contract vibriosis will not need medical treatment beyond replacing lost fluids and some may never even realize that they have it at all, dismissing the watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever as symptoms of some kind of “tummy bug” without seeking a doctor’s advice.
Alabama’s health experts say that they have found 30 cases of vibriosis in the past year; nationwide, about 500 people are sickened badly enough to need a hospital stay while 100 or so of those will ultimately die from the infection.