WASHINGTON – Several cases of bacterial infection have been reported in the areas around the Chesapeake Bay.
To date, 16 cases of vibrio have been reported this year, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene..
The bacteria naturally lives in the Chesapeake Bay, and the rivers and creeks around it. The warmer weather leads to the bacteria multiplying in the water.
The life-threatening infections can get into the body via a cut or open wound in the skin.
The infections can cause lesions or legs or even death.
If not promptly treated, infections can lead to amputation or death.
People over the age of 60 and anyone with a weakened immune system are particularly vulnerable to serious infections.
Last year 57 cases of vibrio infection were reported, the highest number in a decade.
The Washington Post recently reported that a man nearly lost his foot after developing a vibrio infection while vacationing along the bay.
Timing is critical to successfully combat the progression of the infection, which can cause sepsis, says Dr. Ligia Pic-Aluas, an epidemiologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
Pic-Aluas once treated a patient who died from such an infection. He stayed on his yacht on the bay for several days after scraping his leg. When he finally arrived to the hospital, he was in septic shock and his blood pressure was not measurable, she tells WTOP.
The bacteria can enter any break in the skin, however small. Most of the time, infected cuts will crust over and heal. But if patients experience redness or swelling around the wound, or they have chills, sweats and general malaise, they should head to the doctor.
“Those are all alarm signals that the infection is severe and needs to be addressed,” says Pic-Aluas.
She has handled one case so far this year and the hospital treated at least one other patient with a confirmed case of the vibrio infection.
Anyone with a weakened immune system or who suffers from a chronic condition like liver disease should avoid swimming in the bay if they have an open wound.
Raw or undercooked oysters or other shell fish from the bay can also carry the bacteria and make those who eat the fish sick.
Vibrio is a naturally occurring bacteria, not caused by pollution, and is present in the bay any time the water temperature rises above 60 degrees, says Kathy Brohawn, an environmental program manager with the Maryland Department of Environment.
And not all species of vibrio cause illness.
She says anyone who swims, fishes or crabs along the bay should wash their hands with soap and water and take a shower after leaving the water. Picnickers should bring wipes to clean their hands before eating.
These common sense steps will protect most people from ever getting sick, Brohawn says.
Maryland offers these tips to reduce the risk of infection when fishing, crabbing or swimming along the bay:
- Cover wounds with water proof bandages
- Immediately clean any wounds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer and then wash the wound as soon as possible.
- Wear shoes to prevent cuts and scrapes
- Always shower after swimming in natural water
- Always wash hands before handling food or eating after swimming in natural water
- Boil oysters until the shells open, then cook for another 5 minutes
- Steam oysters until the shells open, then steam for another 9 minutes
- Boil or simmer shucked oysters 3 minutes or until the edge curl or fry at 375 degrees for 10 minutes