Flesh-eating bacteria sickens 5, kills 1 in NJ

Warming ocean temperatures are bringing more cases of a flesh-eating bacterium to the New Jersey coastline, according to a new study.

Between July 2017 and September 2018, five people, ranging in age from 38 to 64, including one who died, were all treated at Cooper University Hospital after contracting the bacteria vibrio vulnificus, commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria.

According to the study by the Annals of Internal Medicine, one victim contracted the disease after being exposed to shellfish at work, another contracted it after cleaning and eating crabs caught in the Delaware Bay, and the last three contracted it after crabbing in the same body of water. 

Researchers say it is important to note that all five victims already had significant medical problems, including untreated hepatitis B and C, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease and alcohol abuse. 

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The study says that the bacteria vibrio vulnificus is ordinarily found along the southeastern coast of the United States, sometimes as far north as the Chesapeake Bay, but not in the cooler water of the Delaware Bay.  The waters of the bay are between Delaware and southwestern New Jersey.

Infections can occur due to breaks in the skin, or intestinally after the consumption of seafood. 

In the eight years prior to 2017, only a single case of V vulnificus was seen at Cooper University Hospital, leading the scientists who wrote the study to conclude that sea temperature changes due to climate change could be to blame for the bacteria being found in areas it previously was not.

"Climate change has resulted in significant increases in sea surface temperatures in many regions of the United States over the past 3 decades, " the study said. "These changes have resulted in longer summer seasons and are associated with alterations in the quantity, distribution and seasonal windows of bacteria in marine ecosystems, including Vibrio species (3-5)."