Background: Infections due to Vibrio species cause an estimated 8000 illnesses annually, often through consumption of undercooked seafood. Like foodborne Vibrio infections, nonfoodborne Vibrio infections (NFVI) also result in serious illness, but awareness of these infections is limited.
Methods: We analyzed illnesses occuring during the period 1997-2006 that were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Cholera and Other Vibrio Illness Surveillance system. The diagnosis of NFVI required isolation of Vibrio species from a patient with contact with seawater.
Results: Of 4754 Vibrio infections reported, 1210 (25%) were NFVIs. Vibrio vulnificus infections were the most common (accounting for 35% of NFVIs), with 72% of V. vulnificus infections reported from residents of Gulf Coast states. Infections due to V. vulnificus resulted in fever (72% of cases), cellulitis (85%), amputation (10%), and death (17%). V. vulnificus caused 62 NFVI-associated deaths (78%). Recreational activities accounted for 70% of exposures for patients with NFVIs associated with all species. Patients with liver disease were significantly more likely to die as a result of infection (odds ratio, 7.8; 95% confidence interval, 2.8-21.9). Regardless of pre-existing conditions, patients were more likely to die when hospitalization occurred >2 days after symptom onset (odds ratio, 2.9; 95% confidence interval, 1.8-4.8).
Conclusion: NFVIs, especially those due to V. vulnificus, demonstrate high morbidity and mortality. Persons with liver disease should be advised of the risks associated with seawater exposure if a wound is already present or is likely to occur. Clinicians should consider Vibrio species as an etiologic agent in infections occurring in persons with recent seawater exposure, even if the individual was only exposed during recreational marine activities. Immediate antibiotic treatment with aggressive monitoring is advised in suspected cases.