If you were ever stressed by increased air pollution And more frequent heat waveswell, you can add another worrying health impact of climate change to your list: flesh-eating bacteria Harmful Vibriothat thrives in warming US waters.
In a study published this week in Scientific reportsresearchers have found that infections with bacteria Harmful Vibrio could double in the United States within 20 years. The spread of this potentially deadly germ is fueled by higher temperatures warming coastal waters, and a growing elderly population means more people will be susceptible to infection.
The researchers note that the worrying spread has already begun. Confirmed cases of flesh-eating bacteria have been reported as far north as Delaware Bay; historically they have been confined to the warmer southeastern states and along the Gulf of Mexico.
“In the late 1980s, infections were rare over Georgia (32°N), but by 2018 they were regularly reported as far north as Philadelphia,” the study authors wrote. They also found that the number of infections along the East Coast increased eightfold over the 30-year period from 1988 to 2018, from an average of 10 confirmed cases per year to 80.
There may be hope of stopping the bacteria’s northward migration. If emissions are reduced over the next few decades, cases could spread as far as Connecticut, according to the team’s analysis. But in a medium-to-high emissions future, bacterial infection could reach highly populated areas like New York City by the 2040s. Annual infection rates in East Coast states would rise from the current 80 cases per year to about 140 or even 200 reported cases per year. In this higher emissions scenario, flesh-eating bacterial infections would spread to all East Coast states by the end of this century.
Harmful Vibrio infections can spread when a person eats raw seafood. But the bacteria also lives in hot, brackish water, according to the CDC, and people can become infected by wading or swimming with even a small injury. As global temperatures rise, water masses along the East Coast are warming, creating more favorable environments for bacteria to grow. Infected people may experience vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and open skin lesions. The infection sometimes causes a septic response, leaving some survivors with scars or amputated limbs. Death rates for this bacterial infection can be as high as 18% when a person is infected through a wound, and some people die as soon as 48 hours after exposure, according to the article.
“The projected expansion of infections highlights the need for increased individual and public health awareness in affected areas,” study lead author Elizabeth Archer said in a statement. Press release. “This is crucial because prompt action when symptoms appear is needed to prevent major health consequences.”
Last year, Florida has seen an increase Harmful Vibrio case after hurricane Ianwho put the inhabitants in contact with toxic flood waters. 2022 saw over 70 confirmed cases and 17 confirmed deaths in Florida, according at the state health department. It was a huge increase from the previous two years: 2020 and 2021 saw only 34 and 36 confirmed cases.
The last time Florida saw a similar spike in flesh-eating bacteria cases was in 2017, after Hurricane Irma. There were 50 confirmed cases and 11 deaths that year.
Amy Sapkota, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said the study results should be used to educate populations who will be exposed to the bacteria in the future. “We need to make sure public health systems are resilient and that we understand the connection between what’s happening with climate change and what it means for human health,” she said. BNC News.