It’s Vibrio vulnificus Month

Posted in Bioterrorism at 10:16 am by George Smith

It’s the time of year when the microbe at the heart of my old doctoral thesis is in highest concentration in Gulf Stream waters. And while most people suffer no consequences, a small number have very bad luck.

If you live near or on the east and gulf coasts and spend summers at the beach or in brackish water in the estuaries you’ve probably come in contact with Vibrio vulnificus. Fortunately, it takes big numbers of it in a wound or ingested and a few other factors to get infections started.

From the wires:

According to the Hillsborough County Health Department, two Hillsborough residents have died this year from Vibrio vulnificus infections and five other cases of Vibrio have been reported in the county.

The microscopic bacterial organism Vibrio vulnificus occurs naturally in coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is especially common during the summer months when water temperatures are warmer.

Infections are most often due to consumption of raw oysters and other undercooked raw shellfish. They can also result from exposure of open wounds or sores to seawater.

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A Robeson County man is dead after being exposed to a flesh eating bacteria while fishing near the state line.

Doctors say Charles Curtis Hardin, 56, of Fairmont, died last week after they amputated his leg in an attempt to save his life.

TAMPA (FOX 13) –

Authorities are investigating the death of a 43-year-old Hillsborough County man whose family says a flesh-eating bacteria is to blame.

Tim Ingram, of Gibsonton, passed away last Sunday. His family says it was because of a bacterial infection called vibrio vulnificus.

The source of the infection is not known. Ingram’s wife Ava tells FOX 13’s Doctor Joette Giovinco that Tim had been in the Gulf of Mexico waters off Redington Shores. They then learned of a beach bacteria advisory through a relative. He also ate raw oysters before getting sick.

There are two types of infection, one that sets in after consumption of raw filter-feeder shellfish carrying the organism. Underlying conditions such as liver disease and depressed immunity contribute.

The other stems from wound infection occurred during fishing and boating.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell who among the general population might be most at risk just by looking. Summer recreation and vacation doesn’t work that way.

Both infections are disastrous although the former is generally much more lethal than the latter. In any case, they’re both quite worrisome when diagnosed.

Although the bacterium is susceptible to antibiotics, when the patient presents infections are frequently too fulminating and advanced for best outcomes. It is an example of extreme bioterrorism from nature, so to speak.

Vibrio vulnificus produces a protein digesting enzyme known as a collagenase. And this gives it its “flesh-eating” invasive characteristic.

And I discovered that many years ago.

People will always eat raw shellfish in the summer. And more and more, with global warming, will be spending time in warm salty water in the late summer. Which regrettably guarantees we will always have cases at this time of year.


  1. Ava said,

    September 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    My husband was Tim Ingram and unfortunately he passed from this bacteria.This is not common knowledge..neither of us had ever heard of it. Thank you for posting this unfortunately the average person doesnt know about it or believes it wont happen to them …IT DOES!

  2. George Smith said,

    September 24, 2012 at 9:50 am

    I am sorry for your loss. This disease is a very terrible thing.