Arare ‘flesh-eating’ bacterium that kills almost one in five infected is spreading up the east coast of the US due to warming waters.
Vibrio vulnificus is an ‘opportunistic bacterial pathogen’ found in coastal waters. Exposure to the bacteria through skin lesions can cause necrotising fasciitis, where tissue around the wound dies, requiring urgent removal of the affected area and resulting in limb amputation in around 10% of cases. Although cases are rare, infection by the bacteria leads to death in 18% of cases, sometimes as quickly as 48 hours after exposure.
A team of researchers from the UK, Spain and the US found that between 1988 and 2018, cases on the east coast of the US increased eightfold – from ten to 80 cases annually – and the northernmost occurrence shifted 48km a year as waters warm due to climate change.
In the late 1980s, infections were rare beyond the southern state of Georgia – on roughly the same latitude as Morocco. By 2018, cases were recorded as far north as Philadelphia, which lies on a similar latitude to northern Portugal.