Vibrio vulnificus bacteria come from the same family that causes cholera, but these bacteria cause different illnesses, including sepsis and wound infections. In many cases, infections occur through eating raw or undercooked shellfish, especially raw oysters, harvested from salt waters. This is an acute illness, and those who recover don't usually experience long-term problems. However, infections are fatal about 40 percent of the time.
Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that is a rare cause of illness in the United States. Although it comes from the same family as Vibrio cholerae (the bacteria that cause cholera), the organism causes different illnesses.
Vibrio vulnificus is a natural inhabitant of warm, coastal waters. It tends to cause most infections between the months of May and October.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) receives reports of more than 400 Vibrio illnesses each year. Of these illnesses, about 90 are due to Vibrio vulnificus.
Vibrio vulnificus is known to cause two different illnesses: sepsis and wound infections.
Vibrio vulnificus typically causes sepsis. This is a severe and life-threatening illness that is characterized by fever and chills; decreased blood pressure (septic shock); and blood-tinged, blistering skin lesions (hemorrhagic bullae).
Sepsis is more common in people with:
- Cirrhosis (inflammation of any tissue or organ)
- Hemochromatosis (hereditary iron disorder)
- Chronic kidney insufficiency
- A compromised immune system, as is found in people with leukemia, lymphoma, HIV, and AIDS.
Sepsis is also more common in people taking immunosuppresive medications or those who abuse alcohol.