Potentially fatal infections from a type of carnivorous bacteria could increase exponentially in the coming decades as climate change warms oceans and helps organisms spread into new coastal areas.
The study was published Thursday in Journal of Scientific Reports Found that infections caused by Vibrio vulnificus Along the U.S. East Coast that could double in the next 20 years, especially as warmer sea surface temperatures enable flesh-eating bacteria to thrive in waters farther north than ever before.
while V. vulnificus Infection remains rare, the findings provide further evidence of how closely linked human health and the health of the planet are. The study also adds to a growing body of research on public health risks associated with changes in ecosystems and the environment.
Study co-author Ian Lake, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, said he and his colleagues focused on V. vulnificus Because it responds to even slight temperature shifts in its marine environment.
“It’s been called a kind of barometer for what’s going on in coastal areas because it’s so sensitive ecologically,” Lake said.
V. vulnificus The bacteria thrive in warm, shallow coastal waters, and infections usually peak in the summer months. People can become infected through cuts or other lesions of the skin that come into contact with seawater.
called a lake V. vulnificus A “bad little bug”, because the infection spreads quickly and the bacteria can do serious damage to a person’s flesh. He added that one in five cases is fatal and that many patients require amputation to survive.
The researchers used data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the tracking V. vulnificus infections from 1988 to 2018. The scientists focused on cases reported along the East Coast, which Lake said is known to be a global hotspot for such infections.
The study found that infections increased from 10 to 80 annually over a 30-year period and that cases were occurring in new areas.
Infections in the late 1980s were seen mostly in Gulf Coast states and areas along the southern Atlantic coast but rarely north of Georgia, said the study’s lead author, Elizabeth Archer, a graduate researcher at the University of East Anglia.
In recent years, flesh-eating bacteria appear to be migrating north.
“Now the limit of our collection is around Philadelphia, so it’s a real expansion of where people are affected,” she said.
This northward expansion has been increased by climate change, the researchers said, because warmer waters allow bacteria to multiply. It’s an example of how changes in the environment can have wide ripple effects, Archer said.
“There are complex interactions between the environment and disease factors, and it is important to be aware of the way the world is changing and how these changes are increasing risks to human health,” she said.
In their study, the scientists used different models of greenhouse gas emissions to measure their impact V. vulnificus infections in the coming decades. One model envisioned a future with moderate to high levels of emissions, while the other projected lower emissions as a result of various interventions to slow the pace of global warming.
The researchers expected that V. vulnificus Infections would continue to rise to the coast, and by the 2040s, they might spread to densely populated areas around New York. In the higher emissions scenario, the researchers said, it’s about 140 to 200 Infections can occur every year and the bacteria may be present in every state on the East Coast.
Dr. Louise Evers, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said that while V. vulnificus Infections are extremely rare, and are often devastating. Such infections are difficult and expensive to treat. The study found that V. vulnificus The infection costs more than $28 million in treatment annually.
“Sometimes the rarest diseases can cost the healthcare system more, especially if they are unpredictable and very aggressive,” said Ivers, who was not involved in the study.
Amy Sapkota, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, who was also not involved in the study, said the findings should be used to raise awareness among the public and health care providers, especially in parts of the country. Where such infections may occur in the future.
“It is important to spread public health messages, for example when swimming is not recommended or when you should avoid these waters if you have an open wound,” Sapkota said. “We need to get these kinds of messages across to recreational enthusiasts, as well as people whose livelihoods depend on survival on the water.”
Ivers said such research needs more investment in experts to understand the direct links between environmental disasters and human health and how to mitigate risks.
“We need to make sure that public health systems are resilient and that we understand the relationship between what happens with climate change and what it means for human health,” she said. “This study focuses on something rare, but it connects bacterial microbiology with what it means for the public health community.”
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