Vibrio vulnificus is a common, naturally occurring bacterium that is present in coastal waters throughout the world. It is not the result of pollution and can be higher in concentration during the warmer months. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that 5-10% of all shellfish are contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus. Currently, there are no practical methods available to eliminate Vibrio vulnificus from coastal waters or from shellfish harvested from these waters. Most healthy adults are not at risk for Vibrio vulnificus illness and may not experience any symptoms or illness. However, the illness can be very severe in immuno- compromised individuals such as the young, the elderly and persons with liver disease.
The infection is usually characterized by fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shock, abdominal pain and severe fatigue. Localized skin or blood infections may occur, which may then progress to sores or ulcers. Onset of symptoms is rapid, usually occurring within 3 days after ingestion of the bacteria. Immuno-compromised persons are at an increased risk for acquiring Vibrio vulnificus, and the infection can cause severe illness with a high mortality rate in those persons.
Warm coastal waters, most commonly around the Gulf of Mexico, but the organisms have also been found in water samples from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and from other locations worldwide.
Mode of Transmission
Vibrio vulnificus is transmitted to humans through consumption of improperly cooked or raw shellfish harvested from infected waters, or through open wounds in contact with seawater.
- Food-protection education
- Avoid exposure of recent or healing skin abrasions to seawater
- Immuno-compromised persons should avoid consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish and ensure the shellfish is thoroughly cooked
- Proper cleaning/sanitizing equipment to avoid cross- contamination of raw shellfish and cooked foods
- Good personal hygiene with an emphasis on handwashing
- Using shellfish from approved sources; however, individual shellfish cannot be tested for V. vulnificus, so “approved sources” do not guarantee risk free.
National Restaurant Association