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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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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