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NPS Arrowhead National Park Service
US Department of the Interior
Office of Public Health 1201 Eye Street, NW
Room 1131
Washington, DC 20005

Phone: 202-513-7215
Fax: 202-371-1349
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Office of Public Health - Vibrio vulnificus Factsheet
Points Of Contact
Director
(202) 513-7217
Assistant to Director for Science
(202) 513-7097
Epidemiologist
(505) 248-7806
Assistant to Director for Field Operations
(202) 513-7056
National Capitol Region
202-619-7070
Northeast Region
(215) 597-5371
Southeast Region
(404) 507-5730
Mid-West Region
(402) 661-1718
Intermountain Region
(505) 988-6040
Pacific West Region
(510) 817-1375
Alaska Region
(206) 220-4270

Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that is naturally present in virtually all coastal waters of the United States and can also be found in brackish inland lakes. The organism can cause illness in individuals who eat contaminated seafood (particularly oysters) or have an open wound that is exposed to marine waters. An average of 50 confirmed cases, 45 serious illnesses, and 16 deaths are reported each year from the Gulf Coast states. Illnesses have also been reported along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and cases have been associated with brackish inland lakes of New Mexico and Oklahoma. Most infections occur in the warm months between May and October.

Illness caused by V. vulnificus is relatively rare and most healthy persons do not become ill when the organism is ingested. In persons with weakened immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease, exposure can cause an infection of the bloodstream (septicemia) resulting in serious illness and death. Infection of the bloodstream is characterized by fever, chills, decreased blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions. Ingestion of the bacterium by healthy individuals can cause gastroenteritis which is an inflammation of the stomach that commonly results in vomiting and diarrhea. Persons affected by gastroenteritis may also have headache, fever and abdominal cramps.

Healthy individuals can get V. vulnificus infections in open wounds that come in contact with marine waters. Initial symptoms can include redness, pain or swelling around the cut that that can spread quickly, and open wounds that becomes larger and deeper. The organism can infect the blood or cause serious skin infections.

vibrio infection

Persons having any of the symptoms described above should contact their doctor immediately. V. vulnificus infection can be treated with antibiotics.

Recommendations for reducing risk:

1) Do not expose open wounds or cuts to warm seawater. When swimming or wading, the wound should be covered with a watertight wrap.

2) Cook shellfish thoroughly. Individuals in the high risk category should not consume raw oysters or other shellfish.

3) Wear gloves when handling raw shellfish and avoid cross-contamination of raw shellfish with other foods.


References:

Health Information, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services. (http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/index.htm)

Bad Bug Book, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/intro.html)

If you have any questions, please contact your nearest Regional Point of Contact, park sanitarian or call WASO Public Health for more information.

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