Maryland boy infected with flesh-eating bacteria. Here's what you need to know about Vibrio
WATCH: How you can prevent Vibrio Infection? Wochit
Health officials say cases are rare and water still safe to swim in.
SALISBURY, Md. - After a young boy was infected with Vibrio, a type of flesh-eating bacteriarecently near Ocean City, health officials say this case is rare and local waterways are still safe to swim in.
The boy's mother, Brittany Carey, described what happened to her son in a June 29 Facebook post. According to Carey, her son was swimming in the Sinepuxent Bay just north of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge between West Ocean City and downtown.
"He went swimming and was having a great time until about Monday evening when I started noticing little spots developing all over his body," Carey wrote. "Tuesday morning there were open wounds developing but I had thought he was scratching them, making them worse."
Carey said in the post Thursday that doctors at Peninsula Regional Medical Center diagnosed it as a Vibrio infection.
As of Tuesday, Carey's post has been shared 17,000 times across Facebook.
Cases of vibriosis and other bacterial infections that infect people in bodies of water have been reported up and down the eastern seaboard. There was also a woman infected in Florida in June.
Lynn Fleming, 77, was walking on the beach at Anna Maria Island in Florida when she fell and cut herself. She told Fox 13 in Tampa she had a "Little three-quarters-inch cut" on her leg.
Fleming's condition worsened in a couple of days leading to her incident where she fell unconscious at her home. She was rushed to the hospital where she was later diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis.
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Who is most at-risk for Vibrio?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 80,000 cases of vibriosis each year, 52,000 of those coming from ingesting contaminated food, such as oysters.
Vibrio bacteria is a naturally occurring organism that can be found in coastal waterways, according to the CDC.
Eighty percent of those cases come between May and October each year because of warm waters. Most people who are contract vibriosis recover in approximately three days. But those who get sick with Vibrio vulnificus, can become seriously ill.
In some cases, Vibrio Vulnificus can require intensive medical treatment and amputation, and for about one in five cases can be deadly.
Dr. Rita Colwell is the nation's leading Vibrio experts and has been studying the deadly bacteria since the 1970s. The News Journal
The CDC recommends people don't eat undercooked or raw shellfish, like oysters. Those with cuts or wounds should also stay away from salt or brackish water or cover their wounds with waterproof bandages before swimming.
The Maryland Department of Health says Vibrio can be found in the Chesapeake Bay and waterways around it. People with weakened immune systems or who have liver disease are more at risk for contracting serious cases of Vibrio.
The state office recommends individuals carry hand sanitizer to clean wounds in case they happen while in the water. People are also recommended to shower after any contact with "natural waters."
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Vibrio can infect people in multiple ways, said Debra Stevens, director of community health and emergency preparedness for the Worcester County Health Department.
Humans can either ingest Vibrio-infected shellfish or become sick through breaks in their skin.
Stevens said if humans ingest Vibrio, it can take 12-72 hours for symptoms to present themselves. After that, people may feel nauseous, and experience diarrhea or vomiting.
"If you already have an open wound, if Vibrio gets into that wound then it can cause an additional infection," Stevens said. "It can make that wound get larger, get red, you typically may have fever, stomach ache. It's going to get red and infected-looking."
Steven said Vibrio bacteria is a natural part of the ecosystem and, in the same way people protect themselves from ticks, the same is needed to be safe from Vibrio.
"The most recent data we have listed is from 2017, and in Worcester County, there was one case of Vibrio that was reported and about 66 across the entire state so it's not very common," Stevens said.
Vibrio doesn't always cause infection
There is some research going on into Vibrio, according to Robert Mitchell, director of the environment programs department for Worcester County. He said studying the bacteria may help people understand what causes it to infect people, what increases people's risks and how it moves throughout the environment.
He added, "I would caution that presence does not equate to infection," Mitchell said.
Roman Jesien, science coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, says all of the different strains of Vibrio can be found in Maryland coastal waters.
"We do have Vibrio and we have a number of strains that are considered flesh-eating," Jesien said. "We find them typically in low numbers, but they are present just like sharks are present in our coastal waters — so it's just part of the system."
Jesien said people should be cognizant of the bacteria in the water but it shouldn't stop them. He said beachgoers should use common sense with bandaging up cuts or sores, but it's something that shouldn't stop people from going in the water.
Editor's note: The next section of the article contains images that some readers may find graphic.
"It is unusual that we do have a real big issues with sores. We had a couple years ago a gentleman die up in Assawoman Bay, and just recently, we had a little boy that I understand had Vibrio," Jesien said.
Jesien is referring to the case of Michael Funk, who contracted Vibrio when he was cleaning a crab pot on Sept. 11, 2016, in the Ocean City area.
With-in 36 hours of his symptoms first appearing, Funk died. He had been treated at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, Maryland, where doctors removed the flesh from his knee to his ankle. He was then flown to the University of Maryland’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where his leg amputated. But the infection had already reached his bloodstream and organs.
He died Sept. 15, 2016.
Marcia Funk's husband Michael Funk, died from a vibrio infection in 2016 that he caught in the Assawoman Bay in Ocean City, Md. Delaware News Journal
There have also been multiple cases of Vibrio further north in New Jersey in years past.In 2017 and 2018, there were five different cases in which individuals became seriously ill.
Of the five south Jersey cases, one person was killed by the bacteria. Four of the cases came from crab fishing in the Delaware Bay, but a fifth got sick because of contaminated seafood.
In the more recent case, Carey says in her post her son is doing better after getting treated for the infection.
"I know we've all seen these cases in the Delaware bay but now my little guy got this from being in the bay right by Hoopers," Carey wrote. "Please be careful out there guys and if you start seeing wounds such as these, please get somewhere fast!"
Follow Matthew Prensky on Twitter: @matthewprensky