Bacteria in shellfish spreading coast to coast


Vibrio_fischeri (Photo credit: AJC1)

Aubrey Bull (12:00 Micro) sent me the following summary of a food-borne illness that has  begun to appear for the first time along the East Coast of the US. Various Vibrio species are hugely significant from a medical standpoint. An outbreak of disease due to Vibrio cholerae in London in the mid-1800’s was a key event in the development of epidemiology as a science. Another Vibrio species was in the news this summer, causing nasty wound infections along the East Coast of the US. Here is Aubrey’s summary:

Last Wednesday, October 16, 2013 it was announced that there has been an outbreak of seafood-linked stomach illness along the East Coast and Europe. The illness is linked to specific bacteria typically found in shellfish, Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Previously, Vibrio was most abundant in Pacific Northwest United states but within the last two years there have been many reported cases on the Atlantic coast and Spain.

Many researchers and scientists found this so interesting because there is a distance of about 3,000 miles between the two shore locations and there usually isn’t much cross contamination between the shellfish from separate parts of the world. The researchers are still not sure why or how Vibrio has spread so far, but human interference is the most popular explanation. It’s possible that ships’ ballast water or long-distance shipping carried the bacteria to new regions, they suggested. The spread of Vibrio was reported in 2012 when there were “28 cases from nine states linked to shellfish from Oyster Bay Harbor in New York” and 51 other reported cases from Spain cruise ships.

Vibrio usually causes nothing more than light stomach illness, including vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. But it can be life threatening to people with weakened immune systems. It was also reported in the article that Vibrio feeds off of the abnormally high temperatures of the sea water and it is believed that global warming may play a part in its infestation across the coasts. The global warming also brings up a concern of many other foodborne illnesses and Moline adds that “As oceans continue to warm, more foodborne illnesses will likely appear.”

However, this does not have to stop the consumption of seafood, just raw seafood. The bacteria Vibrio can easily be killed by making sure the food is thoroughly cooked because this will denature the enzymes in the bacteria resulting in safe to eat food. However, it is recommended that persons with poor immune systems stay away from shellfish for a period of time because Vibrio “could cause a severe bloodstream illness which is fatal about 50% of the time.”  Along with the bloodstream illness, Vibrio could also cause a number of serious skin infections if open wounds are exposed to the warm seawater.

It was concluded that there needs to be tighter control and improved monitoring of bacteria in the water and in food that is going to be consumed.



About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on October 29, 2013, in Guest Post. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Bacteria in shellfish spreading coast to coast.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: