A Texas man is the latest person killed by flesh-eating bacteria, which is commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico as it warms during summer months.
But the deadly bacteria could be on the move to new areas, according to researchers.
Gary Evans, 56, of Victoria, Texas, died last week from flesh-eating bacteria after a camping trip on the Matagorda Bay off the Texas coast, his wife Debra Mattix told KHOU.
“It turned out this bacteria is a lot more horrible than anybody thinks, and it’s rapid,” Mattix told the Houston TV station. “It destroys anything in its path.”
Other stories of people dying from flesh-eating bacteria after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico aren’t difficult to find.
In Ellenton, Florida, flesh-eating bacteria killed 77-year-old Lynn Fleming two weeks after she cut herself while on a walk along the beach, the Bradenton Herald reported.
The family of an Indiana girl says the 12-year-old contracted the bacteria while vacationing in Destin, Florida, the Bradenton Herald also reported.
Now researchers warn that rising water temperatures are causing Vibrio vulnificus — a bacteria that causes the flesh-eating infection — to spread into geographic areas it’s not commonly found. Researchers at Cooper University Health Care blamed higher temperatures in the Delaware Bay for a spike in local cases of flesh-eating bacteria, according to a study.
The New Jersey hospital treated one case of Vibrio vulnificus from 2009 to 2016, according to a news release. In 2017 and 2018, doctors encountered five cases after water exposure or consumption of crabs from the bay, the release said. One of those five died.
“While the infection is still rare, it is being seen with more frequency in this region,” Katherine Doktor, an author of the study, told CBS News.
Across the United States, Vibrio vulnificus causes around 100 deaths per year and another 80,000 illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wound infections occur when the skin is cut and intestinal infections happen after eating seafood, researchers said. Both ways can lead to a blood infection, which has a high mortality rate, researchers said.
“As a result of our experience, we believe clinicians should be aware of the possibility that V. vulnificus infections are occurring more frequently outside traditional geographic areas,” Doktor said in the release.
Some experts blame the increase in the flesh-eating bacteria directly on climate change.
“Vibrios are in many ways a poster child for climate change, because they are very sensitive to small changes in [water] temperature,” Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, told NBC News.