Health commissioner raises alarm about potential flesh-eating vibriosis infection following Suffolk death
A Suffolk County man’s death has been linked to a potentially flesh-eating bacterial infection that someone can get from swimming in water with an open wound or eating raw shellfish.
Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott says the bacteria called vibrio vulnificus can cause an infection known as vibriosis, which has also killed two people in Connecticut.
Pigott says the man who died was over the age of 55. The death happened in late July.
He says the man went to a hospital for a leg wound and chest pain before succumbing to an illness.
“We believe that this was a skin exposure to this vibrio vulnificus that wound up causing what they call septic shock,” Pigott says.
Officials say they do not know if the victim encountered the bacteria in waters on Long Island or elsewhere.
The CDC references that the bacteria found in saltwater, but Pigott said it is not going to be found in open ocean like at Jones Beach or Robert Moses.
“The one thing with this vulnificus species is it lives in water that is not as salty as seawater,” Pigott says. “It’s usually when you have a river or stream that flows into water and is not as salty.”
Some of the symptoms of the infection could be diarrhea, nausea and vomiting - if it’s from eating raw shellfish or oysters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says symptoms of a blood infection include fever and blistering skin legions. With a wound infection, there could also be pain, redness and swelling.
In Suffolk County, there were 29 vibriosis cases in 2021, 31 in 2022 and 18 so far this year. Those numbers include all types of vibriosis, not just ones from vibrio vulnificus.
The CDC says 1 in 5 people with a vibrio vulnificus infection die.
The infection is treated with antibiotics.
The state health commissioner says anyone with wounds should avoid swimming in warm seawater and that those with compromised immune systems should avoid eating and handling raw seafood that could carry the bacteria.