Vibrio vulnificus: death on the half shell. A personal journey with the pathogen and its ecology

Microb Ecol. 2013 May;65(4):793-9. doi: 10.1007/s00248-012-0140-9. Epub 2012 Dec 21.


Vibrio vulnificus is an estuarine bacterium which occurs in high numbers in filter-feeding molluscan shellfish, such as oysters. In individuals with certain underlying diseases, ingestion of the bacterium, e.g., in raw or undercooked oysters, can lead to a rapid and extremely fatal infection. Indeed, this one bacterium is responsible for 95 % of all seafood-borne deaths. In addition, the bacterium is capable of entering a preexisting lesion or cut obtained during coastal recreational activities, resulting in potentially fatal wound infections. This brief review, which comprised a presentation made at the Gordon Research Conference on "Oceans and Human Health," reflects over 35 years of research on this bacterium in the author's laboratory. It describes some of the known virulence factors and why males account for ca 85 % of all V. vulnificus cases. It notes the two genotypes now known to exist and how this pathogen enters a dormant, "viable but nonculturable" state during the winter months. Finally, the review discusses how global warming may be causing worldwide increases in the frequency and geographical extent of Vibrio infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ostreidae / microbiology*
  • Shellfish / microbiology*
  • Shellfish Poisoning / microbiology*
  • Shellfish Poisoning / mortality
  • Vibrio Infections / microbiology*
  • Vibrio Infections / mortality
  • Vibrio vulnificus / genetics
  • Vibrio vulnificus / isolation & purification
  • Vibrio vulnificus / metabolism
  • Vibrio vulnificus / pathogenicity*