Warm weather in Texas brings a higher risk of marine water-related infections, including those caused by the Vibrio bacteria which are naturally found in coastal water. Most infections occur between May and October, when the warmer water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico promote the growth of these bacteria. Texas has averaged 90 Vibrio infections per year for the last 10 years.
People can become ill after eating raw or undercooked contaminated seafood, particularly oysters, or when a person has an open wound that is exposed to seawater. Illness due to eating raw or undercooked seafood usually includes gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and chills. These symptoms frequently occur within 24 hours of eating and last approximately three days. Wound infections can cause redness, swelling, large blisters on the skin, skin ulcers, and, in serious cases, may even lead to limb amputation or death. People with a weakened immune system, liver disease, diabetes, cancer, or other chronic diseases or who have decreased gastric acidity are at highest risk for severe illness.
People who develop a skin infection or gastrointestinal symptoms that may be due to Vibrio bacteria should contact their medical provider immediately. They should inform their medical provider if their skin has been in contact with brackish water or seawater, raw seafood, raw seafood juices, or if they ate raw or undercooked seafood before they became ill.
DSHS recommends the following precautions to reduce the risk of infection:
- People with pre-existing wounds, including cuts, scrapes, fresh tattoos, blisters, or bites, should avoid contact with seawater and any kind of raw seafood.
- People with a weakened immune system should wear protective water shoes.
- If a wound is exposed to seawater or raw seafood, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water, and see a medical provider if the area begins to look infected.
- Do not eat raw shellfish, especially oysters; cook seafood thoroughly.
- Wear protective clothing like gloves when handling raw seafood.
- Keep raw seafood separate from other food to avoid cross-contamination, immediately clean up raw seafood spills with hot, soapy water, and thoroughly wash hands, utensils and surfaces after preparing or handling raw seafood.
In 2017, 30 percent of Vibrio cases reported in Texas were due to water exposure and another 21 percent to shellfish consumption with the exposure unknown in the remaining cases. Most cases with water exposure had cuts, bites, scratches or other pre-existing wounds. The majority of cases with shellfish consumption had eaten raw oysters before becoming ill.
Additional information on Vibrio infections in Texas is available at http://www.dshs.texas.gov/idcu/disease/vibrio/default/