A 71-year-old man in South Korea had his left forearm amputated after contracting an infection from raw seafood, Health.com reported Wednesday. The case was detailed in a recent report published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
The man went to the emergency room complaining of a fever and “excruciating ” hand pain that began 12 hours after eating the seafood, the report says. Photographs included in the case study show that the man’s hand was swollen with blisters, including a large, deep purple one nearly covering his palm.
Doctors determined that the man (who also had type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and high blood pressure) was infected with the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus. He was treated with IV antibiotics, but the intervention didn’t work. His skin lesions became necrotic, according to the report, meaning his tissue began to die. Eventually, his left forearm was amputated — though he “did well” after the surgery, the authors wrote.
This isn’t the first time Vibrio vulnificus has made headlines in 2018. In July, a Florida man died after eating raw oysters contaminated with the bacteria. And in August, a New Jersey man became seriously ill after he went crabbing and contracted the same infection.
Infections caused by Vibrio vulnificus are serious, but they’re also rare in the US. Here’s what you need to know about the risk.
Vibrio bacteria live in coastal waters
There are about a dozen types of Vibrio bacteria the can make humans sick, and most cause an illness called vibriosis. Vibriosis causes unpleasant symptoms (diarrhea, cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills) but usually passes in about three days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vibrio bacteria live in some coastal waters and increase in concentration between May and October, when water temperatures rise. A full 80% of Vibrio infections happen during this time period, according to the CDC.
Vibrio vulnificus can cause flesh-eating disease and even death
Vibrio vulnificus is one type of Vibrio bacteria that can make people seriously ill. It can cause blistering skin lesions, bloodstream infections, and necrotizing fasciitis (or flesh-eating disease, which causes tissue death), Business Insider previously reported. It can be fatal, too. The CDC says that one in seven people with a Vibrio vulnificus wound infection dies.
In the US, most people get infected with Vibrio vulnificus by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, especially oysters, according to the CDC. Vibrio vulnificus can also infect the skin if an open wound is exposed to salt or brackish water. Some people get infections after wading through storm flood waters. There were several Vibrio deaths after Hurricane Katrina, for example.
The infection is treated with antibiotics, but amputation can be sometimes be needed to remove dead or infected tissue.
Anyone can get a Vibrio vulnificus infection, but those with liver disease or comprised immune systems are more likely to get infected and have serious complications, the CDC website adds. Luckily, it’s rare. The CDC estimates there are 205 infections in the US each year.
There are some ways to reduce infection risk
It’s important to remember that infections like the South Korean man’s are rare. But if you’re concerned, there are some ways to reduce the risk of all Vibrio bacteria infections, according to the CDC.
Those steps include staying out of salt or brackish water when you have a wound and thoroughly washing any wounds that come in contact with salt or brackish water or raw seafood juices. If a wound is exposed, cover it with a waterproof bandage. If you develop any skin infection, tell a doctor if your skin was exposed to salt or brackish water or raw seafood juices.
And, unfortunately for raw bar fans, eating raw or undercooked shellfish is also a risk. Of the 80,000 vibriosis infections in the US every year, 52,000 are likely caused by eating contaminated food, particularly raw seafood, according to the CDC. You can reduce your risk of infections by not eating raw shellfish and washing your hands after handling raw shellfish.
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.