Citizens have reported to the Mirror that a person became infected with bacteria while swimming in waters around Cape Charles. The bacteria e-coli and Vibrio vulnificus were part of the infection. The person had to be hospitalized and underwent several surgeries. More treatments are ahead, including skin grafts.
The Mirror contacted the Virginia Department of Health on the Eastern Shore, but they were not aware of this event. It should be noted that VDH routinely checks the water quality of Virginia beaches, and the presence of vibrio bacteria does not mean the waters are infested and generally not safe.
Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that normally lives in warm seawater and can cause disease in people who eat contaminated seafood or have an open wound that is exposed to seawater.
While rare, these infections are very dangerous. Vibrio vulnificus, can cause life-threatening wound infections. Many people with Vibrio vulnificus infection require intensive care or limb amputations, and about 1 in 5 people with this infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill.
The CDC estimates 80,000 people become sick with some form of vibriosis, and 100 people die from their infection, in the United States every year.
As the water warms, especially in more shallow and stagnant areas, the possibility of encountering bacteria increases–use caution. Key safety tips:
- Stay out of salt water or brackish water if you have a wound (including from a recent surgery, piercing, or tattoo), or cover your wound with a waterproof bandage if there’s a possibility it could come into contact with salt water or brackish water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices. Brackish water is a mixture of fresh and salt water. It is often found where rivers meet the sea.
- Wash wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and water if they have been exposed to seawater or raw seafood or its juices.
- If you develop a skin infection, tell your medical provider if your skin has come into contact with salt water or brackish water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices.
The Centers for Coast Science discovered the bacteria like warm (> 15°C, > 59°F) and relatively salty waters (~10–15 ppt), and that 93 percent of the time, they can use water temperature and salinity to correctly predict where we will find V. vulnificus.
To predict where we will have warm, salty waters, they use the ChesROMS model, developed with NCCOS funding. Using ChesRoms, they generate three-day forecasts for state and county health officials.