What seniors need to know about vibrio


Summer in South Mississippi is not only a time to be prepared for the possibility of a hurricane forming in the Gulf but it also is a time when the "flesh eating" bacteria vibrio can be prevalent.

Vibrio vulnificus, the most severe form of the bacteria, live in coastal waters and are present in higher concentrations during the months of June, July and August when water temperatures are traditionally at their warmest.

Symptoms from contacting the bacteria can be deadly and there are some precautions seniors may need to take in order to avoid contract with vibrio.

"We are getting into the time of year when we see an increase in naturally occurring vibrio in the water," said, Dr. Paul Byers, deputy epidemiologist with the Mississippi Department of Health. "For people who are at high risk for developing illness, it can cause some pretty serious complications from an infection, and it can lead to death."

Groups at risk for infection

Byers said people with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk of becoming infected. He said diabetics are among those with compromised immune systems.

"We usually don't see the infection in infants and children but in older adults with underlying chronic health problems," he said.

According to the National Diabetes Association, there are almost 12 million seniors living with diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes in the U.S. Seniors 65 and older make up about 25 percent of people with diabetes.

"The people that we think of that are at the highest risk for severe outcomes are folks who have diabetes, liver disease or anyone who has a compromised immune system, including those who are taking treatments for cancer, are susceptible for infection."

Vibrio exposure

Byers said there are two ways to be exposed to the vibrio bacteria.

"People are exposed either through contamination of a cut or wound that gets exposed to seawater or through ingestion, which we typically think of raw oysters when we are talking about ingesting the bacteria."

Once someone becomes infected with vibrio, Byers said the incubation period can happen "very quickly," and it can manifest in a few hours.

"A person that is infected can develop pain, redness at the site of the infection as well as fever -- those are hallmarks of the infection," he said. "This is the type of infection that can progress rapidly, which can lead to sepsis, which can lead to amputation and even death."

Consult your physician

Byers said that he personally would not recommend a senior with diabetes eating raw shellfish, he said it is something that should be discussed with your primary doctor.

"We also recommend people speak to their physician to get the best advice for them, but if diabetics have an open place on their skin or a non-healing place on their skin, they should not be exposed to the seawater."