Fifth Flesh-Eating Bacterial Case Confirmed in Mobile

A false color scanning electron micrograph shows the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. (CDC)(

The Mobile County Health Department has reported that it has identified a fifth local case involving the potentially deadly bacteria Vibrio Vulnificus.

The health department released no details describing the victim, the severity of his or her illness, or the circumstances under which the victim fell ill. “More details will be available once the investigation is completed,” it said.

Vibrio occurs naturally in coastal waters and may be present year-round in some areas, though cases of illness associated with the organism tend to fall during warmer months. While exposure appears to be usually harmless, the exceptions can be severe. Among other things, runaway infections can present as necrotizing fasciitis, a condition sometimes referred to as “flesh-eating bacteria.” (The condition actually is associated several different bacteria, and to multi-bacterial infection, not just vibrio.)

Medical experts say that such complications are primarily experienced by people with compromised immune systems. Swimmers can contract the bacteria through scrapes or cuts, but others have become infected when pricked by the fins of freshly caught fish or the horns of bait shrimp. Others have fallen ill after eating fresh oysters.

The Mobile County Health Department has recognized four previous 2017 cases involving Mobile County residents, and has described symptoms in all four cases as mild. According to information provided by the MCHD:

The first case involved a Mobile County resident who consumed raw oysters in another state in March.

The second incident took place in April, and also involved the consumption of raw oysters while in Mobile County. An investigation confirmed that the oysters were imported from another state and were not harvested locally.

The other two cases took place during June and came from wound exposure while in bodies of waters near Dauphin Island, the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay.

In mid-July, some Mobile media outlets reported on a possible fifth case, though that eventually was blamed on organisms other than vibrio.

Alabama health officials have also said they’re aware of a case involving a Mississippi woman who apparently contracted vibrio while fishing in Fairhope.

The “new” Monroe County Courthouse, far right, was built in the 1960s to replace the 1903 courthouse in the background. Today, the 1903 courthouse has been restored and houses a museum honoring Harper Lee and Truman Capote. (Contributed by Wil Elrick)

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