Know the facts about vibrio vulnificus opinion victoriaadvocate.com electricity worksheets grade 6

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V. vulnificus bacteria are naturally occurring in warm coastal waters around the world. Though this species is present in the Gulf of Mexico year-round, levels are highest during warmer months. Not surprisingly, reports of infections are highest when the water is warmest, with 85 percent of cases reported between May and October.

Exposure of an open wound to saltwater is not the only way to contract a V. vulnificus infection. Concentrations of V. vulnificus also build up in oyster meat and cause illness in people who eat raw or undercooked oysters. There are three types of illness caused by a V. vulnificus infection: gastroenteritis or food poisoning, wound infection and sepsis. Sepsis, when the infection enters the bloodstream, can occur following either gastroenteritis or wound infection and is fatal more than 50 percent of the time in people with compromised immune systems due to underlying illness.

Despite the impression you may have, infections due to V. vulnificus are actually rare. To visualize this, think about how many people visit the bays and beaches along the Gulf of Mexico on any given day – anglers, swimmers, beachcombers, boaters and more. Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? More? Now think about the comparatively small number of news stories on people who have contracted a V. vulnificus infection. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year sees an average of 50 culture-confirmed cases, 45 hospitalizations and 16 deaths reported from the five Gulf Coast states.

There are certain risk factors that can leave a person more susceptible to severe infection, particularly those requiring hospitalization. Liver disease, including alcoholism, cirrhosis and hepatitis, stands out as the primary risk factor. Cancer, chemotherapy, diabetes, AIDS, kidney disease, hemochromatosis (iron overload disease) and gastrointestinal disorders (even ulcers or gastric surgery – remember that you can become infected by eating undercooked oysters) are all known risk factors.

There will likely be more stories of V. vulnificus in the news throughout the summer, as the salinity in the bays reaches 15 to 25 parts per thousand, optimum conditions for these bacteria to thrive. Don’t feel hesitant about enjoying our coastal waters; follow the guidelines for minimizing your risk.

If you cut or scrape yourself while at the beach or fishing, wash the area thoroughly with soap and clean water, and do not expose it to saltwater. It’s smart to bring along a jug of tap water and a bar of soap in case you’re in an area without available bathrooms.• Apply an antibiotic ointment as soon as you can and watch for redness or any signs of infection.

As a side note, in 2014, my kids and I were at the beach when I got hit by a stingray barb on the outside of my foot. And yes, I was doing the "stingray shuffle." I went straight to the bathroom, washed my foot and stayed on the sand for the rest of the day. My foot still bears the scar from the barb, but it never became infected and hasn’t scared me away from my beloved Texas coast. For more information on V. vulnificus, visit www.safeoysters.org and www.cdc.gov/vibrio.

Meridith Byrd spent nearly 10 years as a marine biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department after earning a B.S. in biology with a marine science emphasis from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. She may be emailed at meridith.byrd @gmail.com.