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Vibrio vulnificus

Safety Advice for Fishermen

Caution! Wounds exposed to seawater, or wounds from handling crabs or fish, or wounds from tools used to clean crabs all can be infected with Vibrio vulnificus!

What is Vibrio vulnificus?

Vibrio vulnificus is one of several kinds of Vibrio bacteria found in seawater around the world, especially during the warmer months of the year. It occurs naturally and is not due to pollution. Because it is in the water, it may easily infect an existing wound or a wound made while fishing or cleaning shellfish or fin fish.

How do you get infected with Vibrio vulnificus?

You can get a Vibrio vulnificus infection by getting seawater on an open wound, cut, sore, puncture or burn. This can happen when swimming or wading in seawater, or if you puncture your skin with a crab shell or a tool for peeling crab shells, or get a cut while handling raw seafood. People can also get sick from Vibrio vulnificus by eating raw shellfish. (See Vibrio vulnificus Food Safety Advice.)

What are the signs of infection?

  • Skin infection that appears red and warm to the touch, rapidly becomes painful and swollen, and then destroys the skin, leaving dead tissues. This may lead to infection of the blood (septicemia).
  • Fever and chills.
  • Feeling sick or vomiting, in addition to either or both of the above.

Who is at high risk of infection?

Although people with certain chronic conditions like cirrhosis and diabetes are more susceptible to getting serious Vibrio vulnificus infections if they get exposed, anyone may be at risk if they injure themselves when fishing or cleaning crab or fish, or if they expose a wound, cut, sore or burn to seawater.

Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • You have a wound, cut, sore or burn that rapidly changes into painful, swollen, hot or dead areas.
  • You show any signs of infection listed above.

How do you avoid infection?

  • As much as possible, keep open wounds, cuts, sores, punctures and burns out of seawater. This might involve wearing waterproof rubber gloves or applying a water-resistant bacterial ointment and/or dressing over any cuts or wounds on your hands or other parts of your body exposed to seawater.
  • If you do injure yourself while handling shellfish or fin fish, flush the wound with clear fresh water. Take fresh water with you for this purpose when you go out on a boat.
  • Freezing and refrigeration do not kill these bacteria, so be careful handling all types of seafood, particularly crabs and shellfish. (See our Food Safety Advice factsheet.)