What is Vibriosis?
Vibrio is a group of bacteria that live naturally in warm saltwater. It transfers to humans through skin wounds and if they digest undercooked shellfish, causing vibriosis. In serious cases, the bacteria may cause wound infections as well as a bloodstream infection with blistering skin lesions and severely low blood pressure (x). The highest number of infections typically occur in Maryland, Texas and Florida. In 2013, there were 41 infections and 11 deaths in Florida (x). Texas reports 15 to 30 cases annually, while Maryland sees around 25 infections every year (x, x).
Vibriosis infections are rare. According to the Center for Disease Control, there are around 95 cases annually, including 35 deaths and 85 hospitalizations annually around the world (x). The infections also typically only occur in the summer when water is warmer. In fact, 80 percent of cases occur between May and October (x). The people most at risk of serious infection and death from vibriosis are those who have chronic liver disease or impaired immune system.
Vibriosis triggers mild symptoms including stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Higher risk patients may suffer more severe symptoms such as fever, shock, chills and skin lesions (x). Mild cases do not require treatment. But doctors may treat milder or prolonged vibriosis infections with antibiotics. Severe infection may lead to limb amputation (x).
Causes of Vibriosis
Vibriosis is caused by a Vibrio bacteria species that spreads to humans. Most people get infected when they consume raw or undercooked meat and fish. Certain species of Vibrio bacteria can also cause a skin infection if an open wound comes into contact with brackish water or salt water. Brackish water is made up of saltwater and freshwater and it is usually found where rivers meet the sea (x).
Risk Factors for Vibriosis
People with impaired immune systems are at a higher risk of infection. Specifically, patients with chronic liver disease, cancer, diabetes, thalassemia or HIV are more likely to get an infection. Medications that aim to reduce stomach acid and immune-suppressing therapy are also risk factors. Even patients who have recently undergone stomach surgery are at a higher risk for vibriosis (x).
Symptoms of Vibriosis
Vibriosis usually starts with sudden chills and a fever, which develops when the immune system raises the body temperature to fight the infection (x). The infection triggers three distinct conditions: blood infections (septicemia), wound infections and gastrointestinal tract infections (x).
Also called sepsis, septicemia is arguably the most severe symptom of an infection, including vibriosis (x). Septicemia is blood poisoning and it has a mortality rate of at least 50 percent in vibriosis patients (x, x). People who develop primary septicemia from vibriosis require hospitalization and the patient may also go into septic shock. Primary septicemia typically doesn’t have a definite infection route. The entry point is most likely at the proximal colon or the small intestine (x). It causes chills and fever and a significant decrease in blood pressure. Patients may also develop blistering skin lesions (x).
Vibrio vulnificus can also enter the body through the skin. If a patient is exposed to salt water or brackish water and they have an open wound, the bacteria can enter the body through it and cause infection (x). It causes painful, red, swollen sores on the skin (x). Anyone’s wound can get infection, but some people are at a higher risk for infection and subsequent complications. For example, people with liver disease or suppressed immune systems from medications are less able to fight infection (x). Patients may also develop severe cellulitis that leads to ecchymosis and bullae. About 15 percent of wound infections from vibriosis are fatal (x).
Vibriosis may cause gastrointestinal symptoms including watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain and chills. People with weakened immune systems may also contract the bacteria this way, but the mortality rate is lower than wound infections or primary septicemia (x, x).
Treatment for Vibriosis
Mild cases of vibriosis do not need to be treated and usually the patient will recover after about three days. It does not cause any severe or long-lasting symptoms after the infection leaves the body. However, patients should drink lots of fluids to keep the body hydrated if the infection causes diarrhea or vomiting (x).
Vibrio Vulnificus Infections
Vibriosis can also take a more severe form if a rare species called Vibrio vulnificus causes the infection. This species can make patients very ill and it may even require limb amputation. Studies show that the longer patients delay treatment for this infection, the more likely it is to be fatal. Patients should receive treatment immediately to reduce the risk of complications and increase their chance of survival (x).
Usually the V. vulnificus is the only species that doctors use antibiotics to treat. It may also require aggressive wound treatments. Physicians prescribe different antibiotic therapies in groups to treat the condition. For example, a study tested the efficacy of four different treatments, with individual antibiotics and combinations. First the researchers administered cefotaxime and ciprofloxacin on their own. The first combination was cefotaxime with ciprofloxacin and the second was cefotaxime with minocycline. The study concluded that ciprofloxacin was more effective on its own and combined with cefotaxime. This combination may be useful to treat V. vulnificus infections (x).
If the bacteria causes a wound infection, it needs immediate attention and treatment. It can cause necrotizing fasciitis, which is a flesh-eating disease (x). Sometimes the patient may need a limb amputation to get rid of the infected tissue along with antibiotics (x).
According to a study, in 423 cases of vibrio vulnificus wound infections in the United States, 10 percent of the patients needed amputation (x). Another study in Taiwan tested patients with necrotizing fasciitis who received surgery within 12 hours of hospitalization. The operation had a significant effect on their chances of survival (x).
The best way to prevent vibriosis is to avoid the risk factors to reduce the risk of infection. Avoid raw shellfish and if it is cooked, make sure it is cooked thoroughly. Because another risk factor is direct contact with saltwater or brackish water, pay attention to any open wounds, even small cuts or scrapes. Make sure to cover it with a waterproof bandage to protect it from the water. Cover wounds to protect them from raw seafood as well (x).
Supplements to Fight Bacterial Infections
Supplements are a great way to boost the immune system, so that it is more able to fight off bacterial infections, including vibriosis. They may even help relieve mild symptoms. However, it is always best to consult a doctor before starting a supplement regimen. They are not a proper treatment for any medical condition. Confirm dosage instructions with a doctor and follow all medical instructions.
Perhaps the most important benefit of grapefruit seed is its ability to ease digestive problems. In one study, patients took grapefruit seed extract and saw a significant improvement in digestive disturbances like constipation, abdominal discomfort and flatulence (x). It may also stimulate faster wound healing. Another study tested the extract’s effect on wound healing in mice. The research concluded that the wounds treated with grapefruit seed extract healed faster than those without it (x). According to researchers, the results provided strong evidence to suggest that grapefruit seed extract as a topical represents a viable and productive option to promote wound healing. The recommended dosage for grapefruit seed extract is 250 mg twice a day unless a physician recommends a different dosage.
Applying oregano extract to the skin may help protect small scrapes and cuts as they heal. Oregano oil compounds like carvacrol and thymol may help protect wounds from bacterial infections. Researchers are also investigating the effectiveness of oregano oil to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In one study, researchers tested its effects combined with particles of silver. The combination got rid of all the bacteria they examined (x). Take 500 mg of oregano extract powder one to three times per day with food, or following a doctor’s advice.
Historically, people use echinacea leaves, flowers and roots to make medicine designed to treat several different health conditions. It is very useful in the fight against infections by boosting the immune system so that the body can fight them off. Echinacea fights both viral and bacterial infections, such as vibriosis. It also contains antioxidants that help eliminate free radicals that cause damage in the body. The recommended dose for echinacea extract powder is 450 mg once or twice a day. Consult with a physician to confirm the dosage.
According to research, ginger root is a powerful natural antibiotic. Several studies have shown ginger’s potential to kill different forms of bacteria because of its antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties (x). Ginger may also help support healthy digestion by relieving nausea, soothing an upset stomach and reducing vomiting, all of which are gastrointestinal symptoms of vibriosis. Take 1,000 mg of ginger root extract powder once a day, or as recommended by a doctor. Take the supplement with a glass of water to prevent heartburn.
As a natural and beneficial supplement, garlic has a long medicinal history. One of its main functions is supporting the immune system. It has antioxidant properties that fights harmful free radicals and promotes efficient immune responses. Garlic is also useful in treating bacterial infections, such as vibriosis. It can reduce the severity of the symptoms and help patients recover from infections faster. As a dietary supplement, take 650 mg of garlic extract powder twice daily with a meal unless a doctor recommends a different dosage.
For hundreds of years, people in India and China have used berberine as a natural form of medicine. Applying it to burns can help relieve pain and may even prevent infection, including vibriosis. The supplement also helps relieve diarrhea, another symptom of vibriosis. It stops unhealthy bacteria from growing in the digestive system. Take 500 mg of berberine HCL powder twice a day, or as instructed by a doctor. Don’t take it beyond three months without a doctor’s approval.
Native to the U.S. and Canada, goldenseal is a bitter herb in the buttercup family. Goldenseal is a digestive tonic and stimulates appetite, supports digestion and stimulates bile secretion. It contains berberine, which helps treat infectious diarrhea and dysentery in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. The herb also kills bacteria naturally and helps fight infections. A study examined several herbs in vitro and concluded that goldenseal was one of the most effective at thwarting H. pylori growth. H. pylori are the bacteria that can contribute to ulcers, stomach swelling and stomach cancer (x). Take 500 mg (¼ tsp) of goldenseal powder one to two times a day, or following a doctor’s instructions.
Olive Leaf Extract
A staple in Mediterranean diet, olive leaf has a number of health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help promote heart, cognitive and immune health. It also has the ability to kill harmful microbes in the body, helping prevent infections and decreasing recovery time. The recommended dosage for olive leaf extract powder is 750 mg, unless a physician recommends a different dosage.
The Bottom Line
Vibrio bacteria naturally lives in the warm salt or brackish waters. The bacteria infects humans if they are exposed to water or if they eat raw or undercooked seafood, especially oysters. Infections are more likely in the summer months because the water temperature is higher and provide the perfect environment for bacteria to flourish. The bacteria can cause three types of infections: wound infection, blood infection or gastrointestinal infection.
People with weakened or compromised immune systems are more likely to contract the infection because the body is less able to fight it off. It also increases the risk of more serious complications. Vibriosis causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. It causes red, swollen sores on the skin if the bacteria enters the body through an open wound. If the blood gets infected, it can cause chills, fever, skin lesions and a significant drop in blood pressure. The symptoms usually appear one to three days after exposure.
Mild cases of vibriosis do not require any treatment. However, doctors treat more severe cases with antibiotics like cephalosporin or doxycycline. Severe infections may also require limb amputation. Patients with any of these symptoms and who believe they have been exposed to the bacteria should see a doctor immediately. Vibriosis can be fatal and the best way to increase the chance of survival. Avoid infection by covering any open wound and protecting it from exposure to water. Avoid eating raw or undercooked seafood and protect wounds from seafood juices. Supplements may also be able to help the body prevent and fight infections. However, it is always best to consult a doctor for medical treatment and follow all medical advice.