Confirmed cases of flesh-eating bacteria continue to grow in Virginia

Posted at 2:20 PM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-24 14:20:55-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Beneath the blue water at Ocean View Beach in Norfolk, a naturally-occurring - yet deadly - bacteria could be lurking.

It could appear in all salt or brackish bodies of water.

It’s called vibrio.

“It usually thrives in the warm weather months, and it's found in saltwater and mostly in brackish water,” Kim Wright, Eastern Shore Health District Epidemiologist, told News 3 Reporter Brian Hill.

Virginia Department of Health officials said as of June 1, there have been four confirmed cases - and those numbers are expected to grow this summer.

They told us there were only 41 confirmed cases in 2016; that number more than doubled last year to 87.

“I do think that it is also related to the water temperatures, so if we are having a very hot year, we are more likely to see more cases because that where the bacteria thrives,” Wright said.

On Monday, News 3 wanted to see what beach-goers knew about the bacteria. Most had never heard of it before.

Last year,a local man died after getting infected.

Health experts said it’s more common in people with a weakened immune system.

“Anytime you have a cut or an abrasion, if you go into the water you could be exposing yourself to whatever is in the water,” Wright explained.

Although the Department of Health urges people with open wounds to not get in the water, some beach-goers say the view is too hard to pass up.

“I didn’t know that I shouldn’t do that,” said Lauren Chappell, who was at the beach with her family. “I would have still probably should have done it. I thought that it would have healed anything.”

Instead, officials say a day of summer fun could kill you.

“If you are susceptible or you're immunocompromised, that could lead to a blood infection or sepsis, which could be very serious and life-threatening,” Wright explained.

Fever, vomiting and cramps are some of the symptoms.

You can also contract vibrio by eating raw or undercooked seafood.