CDC Issues Alert for Rare, Deadly Flesh-Eating Bacteria

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Sept. 5, 2023 – The CDC has issued an alert for cases of a rare flesh-eating bacteria that has killed 13 people in the Eastern United States this year.

About 200 Americans report infections of Vibrio vulnificus every year, and roughly a fifth of them cause death, sometimes in just a day or two, the CDC said.

The health alert said, “V. vulnificus wound infections have a short incubation period and are characterized by necrotizing skin and soft tissue infection.” Many infected people “require intensive care or limb amputations.” Some infections lead to flesh dying around open wounds.

The CDC said extreme weather events like coastal floods, hurricanes and storm surges can “force coastal waters into inland areas, putting people that are exposed to these waters” at risk.

Officials have reported at least one death in New York this year; two in Connecticut; three in North Carolina; and seven in Florida.

“Although infections from the bacteria have been mostly reported in the Gulf Coast, infections in the eastern United States rose eightfold from 1988 to 2018,” The Washington Post reported. “In the same period, the northern geographic range of infections has increased by 30 miles every year. This year’s infections came during a period of above-average coastal sea surface temperatures.”

The bacteria lives from May to October and thrives in warm waters “in low-salt marine environments like estuaries,” the CDC says.

No person-to-person cases have been recorded. The bacteria is transmitted when an open wound is exposed to salt water or brackish water. People with liver disease and diabetes are at higher risk.