Connecticut health officials are warning residents along the state coastline of exposure to a potentially fatal infection that has infected five people.
The five patients in three different counties were hospitalized after being infected in July or August while exposed to salt or brackish water during activities such as swimming, crabbing and sailing, the state health department said in a press 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 worrying,”
Vibrio vulnificus infection is rare, as Connecticut has only reported seven cases in the ten years from 2010 to 2019, the health department reported.
It can occur when open wounds are exposed to hot salt or brackish water, which is a mixture of salt and fresh water, and can lead to serious illness that requires intensive care or amputation of a limb. About 1 in 5 people with this type of Vibrio infection dies, sometimes within a day or two after becoming ill.
Those most at risk of infection are the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
The four men and one woman who fell ill in July and August in Connecticut were all between 49 and 85 years old. Two had septicemia, one had an infection in 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 can increase 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 carnivorous 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 in 2017 and 2018. In the eight years prior to 2017, doctors saw only one case of the potentially fatal infection.
All five cases occurred after patients were exposed to water and / or ate crabs from Delaware Bay. All patients received prompt medical attention and surgical treatment, but one patient died.
“As a result of our experience, we believe that clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections may occur more frequently outside traditional geographic areas,” said Dr. Katherine Doctor, a specialist in infectious diseases at Cooper University Health Care, in a statement to NBC News at the time.