Vibrio vulnificus septicemia is the most common cause of fatality related to seafood consumption in the United States. It occurs predominantly in patients with chronic liver disease following consumption of raw oysters.
V. vulnificus is a highly virulent human pathogen, normally found in warm estuarine and marine environment. It lodges in filter feeders like oysters. The onset of this illness is abrupt, rapidly progressing to septic shock with a high mortality.
Clinicians managing patients with chronic liver disease need to educate their patients of the risk associated with the consumption of raw seafood, especially oysters.
A high index of suspicion is necessary for appropriate treatments, as doxycycline, the antibiotic of choice, is not usually a part of the empiric therapy for septicemia.
The high mortality associated with this septicemia demands aggressive preventive measures: susceptible individuals must be forewarned by signs displayed in restaurants; physicians must educate patients with chronic liver disease about the risk of raw oyster consumption; and harvesting methods which reduce contamination by V. vulnificus must be utilized.
Signs and symptoms
V. vulnificus is an extremely virulent bacterium that can cause three types of infections:
- Acute gastroenteritis from eating raw or undercooked shellfish: V. vulnificus causes an infection often incurred after eating seafood, especially raw or undercooked oysters. It does not alter the appearance, taste, or odor of oysters. Symptoms include vomiting, explosive diarrhea and abdominal pain
- Necrotizing wound infections can occur in injured skin exposed to contaminated marine water. V. vulnificus bacteria can enter the body through openwounds when swimming or wading in infected waters, or by puncture wounds from the spines of fish such as tilapia, catfish or stingrays. These patients may develop a blistering dermatitis sometimes mistaken for pemphigus or pemphigoid.
- Invasive septicemia can occur after eating raw or undercooked shellfish, especially oysters. V. vulnificus is 80 times more likely to spread into the bloodstream in people with compromised immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease. When this happens, severe symptoms including blistering skin lesions and septic shock can sometimes lead to death. This severe infection may occur regardless of whether the infection began from contaminated food or an open wound.
Among healthy people, ingestion of V. vulnificus can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In someone with a compromised immune system, particularly those with chronic liver disease, it can infect the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions.
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