Connecticut health officials are warning residents along the state’s shoreline about exposure to a potentially deadly infection that sickened five people.
The five patients in three different counties were hospitalized after becoming infected in July or August while exposed to salt or brackish water during activities such as swimming, crabbing, and boating, the state health department said in a news release Saturday. All five had pre-existing wounds or suffered new wounds during these activities that led to the infections.
“The identification of these five cases over two months is very concerning,” state epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter said in the release. “This suggests the Vibrio bacteria may be present in salt or brackish water in or near Long Island Sound, and people should take precautions.”
Vibrio vulnificus infection is rare, with Connecticut having reports of only seven cases in the 10 years from 2010 through 2019, the health department reported.
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It can occur when open wounds are exposed to warm salt or brackish water, which is a mix of salt and fresh water, and can lead to serious illness requiring intensive care or amputation of a limb. About 1 in 5 people with this type of Vibrio infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill.
Those at greatest risk of infection are elderly people and people with compromised immune systems.
The four men and one woman who became ill in July and August in Connecticut were all between the ages of 49 and 85. Two contracted septicemia, an infection of the bloodstream, and three had serious wound infections. No deaths have been reported among the five cases, the state said.
Although rare, Vibrio vulnificus infections may be increasing due to rising water temperatures caused by climate change, according to a June 2019 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The bacteria can cause so-called flesh-eating infections, or necrotizing fasciitis, as well as diarrhea.
And, in the study, a team of infectious disease specialists at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, New Jersey, describe five cases of Vibrio vulnificus necrotizing fasciitis that occurred during 2017 and 2018. In the eight years prior to 2017, the doctors saw only one case of the potentially fatal infection.
All five cases occurred after the patients were exposed to water and/or ate crabs from the Delaware Bay. All of the patients received prompt medical attention and surgical management, but one patient died.
“As a result of our experience, we believe clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections are occurring more frequently outside traditional geographic areas,” Dr. Katherine Doktor, an infectious disease specialist at Cooper University Health Care, said in a statement to NBC News at the time.
Wilson Wong is a news associate at NBC News.