Monday, August 07, 2006

Warm Temperatures Bring Dangerous Bacteria to Northern Waters

Warmer than usual waters are carrying dangerous organisms north. Portuguese men-of-war have been found throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And the Rhode Island Health Department reported recently that dangerous strain of bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, which is usually found in much warmer areas, infected a man who was shellfishing in Narragansett Bay. He didn’t get ill from eating the shellfish (which is a risk if you eat them raw) but rather because he had an open cut and was infected while in the water:

[The health department] yesterday suggested that Rhode Islanders avoid exposing open wounds to saltwater and avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish. (The shellfish advisory is always in effect, Gifford said, because of the potential dangers of eating raw shellfish.) [That’s David R. Gifford, director of the state Department of Health.]

Of particular concern to the state are the warmer waters of the upper Bay -- from Greenwich Bay north to Providence -- and inlets, shallow areas and coastal ponds such as Ninigret Pond and the Great Salt Ponds.

Gifford said the bacteria needs warm saltwater to survive, but he would not rule out the possibility of its presence in cooler parts of the Bay or in the ocean.
Nationally, there are about 100 cases of Vibrio infection a year, a third of which are fatal, Gifford said.

… Gifford said a man in his 50s or 60s was collecting shellfish near Warwick's Conimicut Point early last month. A wound on his leg became infected, leading to a serious hospitalization. The man is now recovering, Gifford said. He refused to release more information, saying he did not want to jeopardize the man's privacy.
"He got adequately treated and he's recovering fine," Gifford said.

The state does not routinely test the water for Vibrio, inasmuch as it is normally found in warmer waters, Gifford said.

But after learning of this man's case, the waters and shellfish around Coniicut Point were tested. On Thursday night, the results came back showing low levels of the bacteria. Gifford said the levels were high enough to issue the advisory.

The department is now testing shellfish and water in the upper Bay and other warm saltwater areas, including the inlets and coastal ponds. Results could take a few weeks because of the complexity of the bacteria, Gifford said.

The department was not sure how the bacteria got to Rhode Island waters, but Gifford speculated that either the Gulf Stream carried it up here or a ship in the Gulf carried it up here in water in its ballast tank.

The excerpt is from the Providence Journal, by the way, which is doing a terrific job of covering conditions on the Bay and in the state's coastal waters this summer. If only we had its equivalent on Long Island Sound.


Blogger Sam said...

Vulnificus, wow! That's more common in the Gulf of Mexico ... and is nothing to fool with. Several folks a year die from it.

The doctor told me to put vaseline or other heavy jelly on cuts, abrasions, and stuff like that, since it will help keep bacteria away.

This is funny, but we have to put on our "makeup" every morning before going to the beach or on the water. Yep, vaseline or triple anti-biotic on any sore areas, sunscreen, let soak for 20 minutes.

It's the manly thing to do!

1:45 PM  

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