The New York State Health Department has issued guidance for residents to identify a flesh-eating bacterium that claimed the lives of a New York resident and two Connecticut residents over the summer.
The state Department of Health said three people were known to be infected with the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium.
Vibriosis is a rare but potentially deadly bacterial infection that can cause skin damage and ulcers and is found in raw shellfish or seawater, health officials said.
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Gov. Kathy Hochul called the flesh-eating bacteria “extremely dangerous” and urged her constituents to take precautions against the bacteria.
“The Vibrio bacterium, while rare, has unfortunately made it to this region and can be extremely dangerous,” Hochul said a press release. “As we conduct further investigations, it is critical that all New Yorkers remain vigilant and take responsible precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones. This includes protecting open wounds from seawater and, for people with compromised immune systems, avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish, which can potentially infect the bacteria.”
Hochul said vibriosis is caused by several species of bacteria, including the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, which is naturally found in saltwater coastal environments.
She found that the potentially deadly bacteria are in higher concentrations from May to October, when the weather is warmer.
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Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, fever and chills. Exposure can also lead to ear infections and cause sepsis and life-threatening wound infections.
The person in New York who died from vibrio lived in Suffolk County. Hochul said the death is still being investigated to determine whether the bacteria were encountered in New York waters or elsewhere.
The New York State Department of Health warned that people with liver disease, cancer, or a weakened immune system, or those taking medication to lower stomach acid levels, may be more likely to get an infection or develop complications when infected.
To prevent vibriosis, people with a cut, scrape, or recent piercing or tattoo should avoid exposing their skin to warm seawater in coastal areas, or cover the wound with a waterproof bandage.
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In addition, the health department warned people with compromised immune systems against eating raw or undercooked shellfish, such as oysters, which can transmit the bacteria. Wear gloves when handling raw shellfish and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you're done.