Flesh-Eating Bacteria Incidents Reported, Experts Warn Warming Oceans Could Make It More Common
Within the last month, at least two people in the U.S. have contracted a flesh-eating infection from an ocean-dwelling bacterium — an occurrence that experts warn could become more frequent as the world's oceans warm.
Vibrio vulnificus is an "opportunistic pathogen" responsible for a majority of seafood-related deaths in the U.S., according to an article written by the American Society for Microbiology. The bacteria thrive in warm salty and brackish waters and enter humans either through breaks in the skin or after being consumed with raw seafood. Up to one-third of people with vibrio vulnificus will die from the infection, which can cause a flesh-eating and commonly fatal bacteria known as necrotizing fasciitis.
A woman in Florida died last month after contracting the bacteria when she fell into the water and cut her leg — a wound that measured just three-quarters of an inch, NBC reported. That afternoon she experienced overwhelming pain in her leg. Within days her limb was black and she was put on hospice care, eventually succumbing. She was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis and subsequently suffered from two strokes, kidney failure and sepsis.
At another Florida beach, a 12-year-old girl similarly complained of pain that started in her leg and traveled through her entire body, wrote her mother in a Facebook post. After an initial visit at a local hospital, doctors told the woman to send her daughter to a hospital in Indianapolis specializing in children's health where she was admitted to the ICU for an infection behind her knee and septic shock, reports Today. Though her recovery is expected to be a long one, a rush to emergency surgery saved the girl's life and prevented the amputation of her leg.
"We are not completely better, but we are on the road to recovery. We will have numerous doctors' visits, physical therapy and blood work to continue, but all that matters is my girl is ALIVE. I wanted to share her story in hopes that it may help save someone else. It is CRITICAL to be aware of the signs and symptoms and getting treatment quickly," she wrote.
Cases in 2019 are adding up at a rate much higher than in previous years: A young boy contracted vibrio in Maryland last week after swimming at a local beach, reports CBS. The Miami Herald reports the story of a man in Florida who contracted the flesh-eating bacteria and whose quick action similarly saved him from losing muscle tissue in the arm. Surprisingly, the man insisted that he became infected without being in the water.
Necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by a number of different bacteria, but is commonly caused by V. vulnificus when people wade into contaminated water with a cut or wound or eat raw shellfish infected by the bacteria. Endemic along the Southeast U.S. coast, the bacteria doesn't typically extend north of Virginia's Chesapeake Bay. However, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that as temperatures rise and make previously cooler regions more hospitable to the warm-water bacteria, infections will also increase in non-endemic areas
The researchers reported five occurrences of necrotizing fasciitis caused by V. Vulnificus in New Jersey during the summers of 2017 and 2018. By contrast, just one case had been diagnosed in the previous eight years, researchers told Medscape Medical News.
The quick-spreading infection starts with a red or swollen area of skin, severe pain and a fever, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Later symptoms can include ulcers, blisters, or black spots on the skin, changes in its coloration, pus or oozing from the infected area, as well as dizziness, fatigue, and diarrhea or nausea. Treatment requires hospital and intravenous antibiotics and surgery to reduce the rapid spread by removing the dead tissue to avoid sepsis, shock, and organ failure, as well as life-long complications for loss of limbs and severe scarring.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that three people were infected by a flesh eating bacteria. Two were infected, while a third was infected with vibrio vulnificus. The headline and story have been updated for clarity.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.