Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It normally lives in warm seawater and is part of a group of vibrios that are called "halophilic" because they require salt.
It can cause disease in those who eat contaminated seafood or have an open wound that is exposed to seawater. Although Vibrio vulnificus is a rare cause of disease, it is also believed to be underreported.
Among healthy people, ingestion of the organism can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In immune-compromised persons, particularly those with chronic liver disease, it can infect the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions. Bloodstream infections are fatal about 50% of the time.
It can cause an infection of the skin when open wounds are exposed to warm seawater; these infections may lead to skin breakdown and ulceration. People with immune-compromised conditions are at higher risk for infections.
Tips for preventing Vibrio vulnificus infections, particularly among immune-compromised patients, including those with underlying liver disease include the following:
• Do not eat raw oysters or other raw shellfish.
• Cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly.
• Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood.
• Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
• Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters.
• Wear protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish.