And what did you do to earn the stripes?

Posted in Bioterrorism at 4:27 pm by George Smith

Every mid-Summer, flesh-eating bacteria found along the coast kills and maims a very small number of Americans. Called Vibrio vulnificus, my contribution to science was discovering what it produced that made it lethal. It makes an enzyme, collagenase, that digests collagen, the protein that makes up connective tissue and filler throughout your body. Said another way, this makes it efficient at eating holes in the flesh walls of you. And that’s a catastrophe.

Have you ever spent time working with a pathogen that could kill you?

From the Epoch Times newspaper:

At least one person is dead and three others were sickened in Louisiana after coming down with Vibrio vulnificus, a type of “flesh-eating bacteria.???

They contracted the illness after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, health officials told the Houston Chronicle.

Four swimmers were infected with the “flesh-eating??? Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which is naturally occurring and found in warm water. They were swimming near New Orleans and Thibodaux.

The person who died was an 83-year-old Terrebonne Parish man who had an open wound that was splashed with water containing the bacteria.

“You get bacteria into certain wounds, and they can cause a lot of tissue destruction by virtue of the fact that these bacteria produce enzymes that break down the tissue [I did this],??? Dr. Peter Hotez, an expert at Baylor College of Medicine, told ABC-13 in Houston.

He said that people can also contract it via eating raw shellfish.

Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment with antibiotics are needed to successfully cure V. vulnificus infections. Sadly, this is often not the case and fatality or infection requiring amputation to save life is the result.

When I graduated with a Ph.D. based on the microbiology, no one was interested in continuing or funding the study of it. The small number of people it killed were of no general concern.

It took decades to make it a requirement that people be informed of the risk when eating raw shellfish taken from brackish Gulf Stream coastal waters where good growth of V. vulnificus occurs in the summertime. And many many people still do not know of the hazard which can occur if minor fishing or sea shore cuts are infected with it. Some people, due to underlying conditions, tend to be far more vulnerable to V. vulnificus.

It is a wicked disease.

What I did was innovative. I thought about Vibrio vulnificus and what it might be doing before almost everyone else believed it to be important. I decided to take a risk (and you undertake a thorough think about such things for obvious reasons) and made a hypothesis as to what might be a contributing factor to a fatal disease, did the laboratory work to find an element and define the nature of the product of the bacterium. That’s real science.


1 Comment

  1. Bonze Anne Rose Blayk said,

    July 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    “That’s real science.”

    Indeed, and thank you for doing it.

    – bonzie anne