Scientists warn of a sharp rise in “flesh-eating” infections in parts of the United States due to climate change

Climate change is increasing fatal bacterial infections on the East Coast of the United States. the Vibrio vulnificus The bacteria thrive in warm coastal waters and can infect wounds or insect bites. A new study reveals that infections have risen from 10 to 80 cases per year over three decades, with cases now prevalent in North Philadelphia. Often referred to as “flesh-eating” bacteria, the bacteria can cause severe harm, sometimes resulting in amputation of limbs for survivors.

Continued warming of the climate will see a rise in the number and spread of fatal infections caused by bacteria found along parts of the US coast.

Vibrio vulnificus The bacteria thrive in warm, shallow coastal waters and can infect a cut or insect bite while in contact with seawater. A new study led by the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom shows that the number of V. vulnificus Infections along the US East Coast, a global hotspot for such infections, have risen from 10 to 80 annually over the past 30 years.

In addition, cases occur every year in the North. In the late 1980s, cases were found in the Gulf of Mexico and along the southern Atlantic coast but were rare north of Georgia. Today it can be found as far north as Philadelphia.

Researchers predict that by 2041-2060 the infection may spread to major population centers around New York. The number of annual cases could double, along with a growing population and an increasingly elderly population, who are more vulnerable to infection.

By 2081–2100, the infection may be present in every eastern US state under medium-to-high future emissions and global warming scenarios.

Results published today (March 23, 2023) in the journal

“We show that by the end of the 21st Century, V. vulnificus infections will extend further northwards but how far North will depend upon the degree of further warming and therefore on our future greenhouse gas emissions.

“If emissions are kept low, then cases may extend northwards only as far as Connecticut. If emissions are high, infections are predicted to occur in every US state on the East Coast. By the end of the 21st Century we predict that around 140-200 V. vulnificus infections may be reported each year.”

The research team suggests that individuals and health authorities could be warned in real time about particularly risky environmental conditions through marine or Vibrio specific early warning systems.

Active control measures could include greater awareness programmes for at risk groups, for example the elderly and individuals with underlying health conditions, and coastal signage during high-risk periods.

Co-author Prof Iain Lake from UEA said: “The observation that cases of V. vulnificus have expanded northwards along the East Coast of the US is an indication of the effect that climate change is already having on human health and the coastline. Knowing where cases are likely to occur in future should help health services plan for the future.”

The study is the first to map how the locations of V. vulnificus cases have changed along the eastern coastline of the US. It also the first to explore how climate change may influence the spread of cases in the future.

Information on where people caught V. vulnificus infection was obtained from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This allowed the team to map how cases of Vibrio vulnificus have extended northwards over 30 years from 1988-2018.

Temperature information based on observations and computer-based climate models were then used to predict where in the US cases might occur by the end of the 21st Century.

Co-author Prof James Oliver from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, in the US, said: “This is a landmark paper which not only ties global climate change to disease but provides strong evidence for the environmental spread of this extremely deadly bacterial pathogen.”

Reference: “Climate warming and increasing Vibrio vulnificus infections in North America” by Elizabeth Archer et al., 23 March 2023, Scientific Reports.
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-28247-2

See also  China wants to start using lunar soil to build lunar bases as early as this decade

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *