Is climate change to blame for a rise in ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria cases? Doctors say yes

Doctors think that climate change may have brought flesh-eating bacteria to previously unaffected waters.

In a report published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers say that rising water temperatures in the Delaware Bay may be to blame for an increase in the number of cases of Vibrio vulnificus infection, which can occur after handling or consuming seafood or coming into contact with seawater.

V. vulnificus bacteria can cause so-called flesh-eating infections, or necrotizing fasciitis, as well as diarrhea.

In the article, a team of infectious disease specialists at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, New Jersey, describe five cases of V. vulnificus necrotizing fasciitis that occurred during the summer of 2017 and 2018. In the eight years prior to 2017, the doctors saw only one case of the potentially fatal infection.

All five cases occurred after the patients were exposed to water and/or ate crabs from the Delaware Bay. All of the patients received prompt medical attention and surgical management, but one patient died.

“As a result of our experience, we believe clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections are occurring more frequently outside traditional geographic areas,” Dr. Katherine Doktor, an infectious disease specialist at Cooper University Health Care, said in a statement provided to NBC News.