What About Vibrio?

A well-intentioned reader called... "Six guys are in the hospital, got Vibrio in West Matagorda last Saturday. Man, it's bad. You need to write something."

As bad as that sounds and, terrible if true, the fact of the rumor mill is that reports can grow as they travel. Everything from rivers full of livestock manure to "overflowing septic systems" are to blame, according to some sources.

And while it is true that Vibrio vulnificus can be found in Texas bays, it is also present in the Gulf of Mexico. Actually, Vibrio lives in temperate seawater all around the globe, all year round. The yearly average of confirmed Vibrio cases in Texas is about 20, Florida sometimes reports double that, more on the Atlantic than gulf side. It is also true that many cases go unreported, bacteria never identified, as doctors focus foremost on saving limbs and lives.

Everybody who frequents Texas bays and beaches during warmer months should also be aware that equally dangerous staphylococcus and streptococcus are also present and, like Vibrio, thrive greatest during summer. That severe infection cases rise sharply in summer is likely due to greater participation in beach and fishing activities as much as the seasonal increase in bacteria.

So–what's a fisherman to do? Having interviewed a number of physicians on this topic, I came away with precautions I practice religiously between April and October–the months of greatest risk.

-Schedule a physical exam, including blood work, and pointedly ask the doctor, "What precautions should I take to guard against Vibrio and other bacterial infection?"

-Do not go wade fishing with an open cut or even a slight abrasion anywhere on your body. If you simply must wade, wear waders to avoid seawater contact. Same goes for boat fishing, you do not have to be in the water to get Vibrio.

-People at greatest risk are males, middle-40s to seniors, especially if immuno-comprised. Immuno-compromised means diabetics, any who suffer chronic liver and/or kidney ailment, those with steady alcohol habits (be honest), and any being treated with steroids or antibiotics for other problems as these can suppress the immune system.

-Should you receive a wound while fishing, get out of the water immediately and flush liberally with bottled water. Cleansing with anti-bacterial soap and water is recommended. Hydrogen peroxide and Hibiclens are also highly recommended to arrest bacterial growth.

-Seek medical attention! Too often we hear of patients who waited until affected regions became dark and severely swollen. This can cost a limb–possibly your life!

There is much to know and good, safe habits to practice. On page 71 you will find more information about Vibrio vulnificus and several of its relatives. I have Type-II diabetes. I have discussed my condition with my physician and I follow his advice as regards seawater contact. Above all–if you suspect you may have contracted a serious infectionseek medical attention immediately!