Vibrio bacteria can lead to brutal infections and even necrotizing fasciitis
A giant stretch of seaweed creeping across the Atlantic Ocean toward Florida may contain deadly flesh-eating bacteria, a new study has found. The 5,000-mile wide clump of seaweed is made up of sargassum seaweed, which has bloomed massively to form the "Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt'', Newsweek reported. This year's sargassum bloom has been on track to grow to the largest it's ever been.
The study conducted by Florida Atlantic University shows how the seaweed interacts with plastic debris found in the ocean and the Vibrio bacteria species, creating “the perfect ‘pathogen' storm”. This could affect both marine life, as well as public health.
''Plastic is a new element that's been introduced into marine environments and has only been around for about 50 years,” Tracy Mincer, Ph.D., one of the study authors and an assistant professor of biology at FAU's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, said in a news release from FAU.
''Our lab work showed that these Vibrio are extremely aggressive and can seek out and stick to plastic within minutes. We also found that there are attachment factors that microbes use to stick to plastics, and it is the same kind of mechanism that pathogens use.''
He said the seaweed belt stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the African coast provided the perfect breeding ground for “omnivorous” strains of the bacteria that target both plant and animal life.
Vibrio bacteria can lead to brutal infections and even necrotizing fasciitis, leading to the bacteria being nicknamed "flesh-eating." Vibrio can infect via eating contaminated seafood, or through an open wound on someone's flesh, usually from seawater, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In an interview with the local TV station WEAR, Mr. Mincer said the threat of the vibrio bacteria increases after the blob reaches the shore and dries.
''If you handle this seaweed, it's a good idea to wash your hands,'' he said, ''and if you're going to be doing a lot of it, wear gloves, and if you have an open cut or something, stay away from it.''
“We really want to make the public aware of these associated risks. In particular, caution should be exercised regarding the harvest and processing of Sargassum biomass until the risks are explored more thoroughly,'' Mr. Mincer added.
Florida's Department of Health has advised residents and visitors to avoid sargassum and warned that Vibrio vulnificus infections “can be severe for people who have weakened immune systems, such as those with chronic liver disease,'' Guardian reported.