US woman loses limbs after eating undercooked fish; know about this infection you can get from seafood

By, New Delhi
Sep 20, 2023 01:53 PM IST

Vibrio vulnificus can cause life-threatening infections in people after having contaminated seafood or having an open wound exposed to infected water.

A mom to a 6-year-old from USA list all of her four limbs due to bacterial infection after eating an undercooked fish. 40-year old Laura Barajas started showing symptoms days after consuming the seafood and the infection spread rapidly due to which her limbs had to be amputated in an emergency surgery, reported The Strait Times. She, however, could be saved from an otherwise life-threatening infection. She had sepsis and her kidneys were failing, a friend of Barajas told San Francisco Bay Area local news station Kron4.

Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium related to the cholera causing bacteria(Unsplash)
Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium related to the cholera causing bacteria(Unsplash)

The condition has been reportedy caused by Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium which can cause life-threatening infections in people after having contaminated seafood or having an open wound exposed to infected water..

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Let's know more about this bacterium:

What is vibrio vulnificus?

"Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium related to the cholera causing bacteria (Vibrio cholerae). It thrives in warm, brackish waters. Although it's relatively rare, it can cause serious infections in individuals especially those with lowered immunity who consume contaminated seafood or have an open wound exposed to infected water," says Dr. Tanu Singhal, Consultant, Paediatrics and infectious disease at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Mumbai.

"Vibrio vulnificus is a type of bacteria which normally thrives in warm seawater. This bacteria can set foot in your body when you eat raw or undercooked seafood (shrimp, crayfish, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels). It can infect you even when your open wounds are exposed to seawater in which this bug lives. It causes a serious form of the illness vibriosis that may quickly cause sepsis, shock and large, spreading blisters that kill tissues. The incubation period is short — it only takes a few hours for it to transmit from your intestines to your blood and other vital organs," says Dr. Bir Singh Sehrawat, Director and HOD-Gastroenterology, Marengo Asia Hospitals, Faridabad

Risk of losing limbs

"One of the most alarming complications arising from a Vibrio vulnificus infection is the risk of losing limbs. When the bacterium enters through a wound, it can cause necrotizing fasciitis, a rapidly progressing condition that destroys skin, fat, and muscle tissue, and can spread at an alarming rate.The risk of this severe outcome underscores the importance of early detection and treatment. If someone suspects a vibrio vulnificus infection, especially after a wound has been exposed to warm saltwater or brackish water, it's crucial to seek medical attention immediately. Early intervention can reduce the risk of complications and increase the chances of a full recovery," says Dr Singhal.

Symptoms of vibrio vulnificus infection

Dr Singhal says the he symptoms of a Vibrio vulnificus infection can vary depending on the mode of acquisition:

From seafood: Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. These can develop within 24 hours of consumption. Some patients might experience more severe symptoms like a life-threatening bloodstream infection with fever, chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions.

From wound exposure: When the bacterium enters through an open wound, it can cause a skin infection which might result in symptoms like swelling, redness, pain, and ulcers at the wound site. In some cases, the infection can be more severe, causing necrotizing fasciitis – a rapidly spreading infection that destroys tissues.

"People with Vibrio vulnificus infection may suffer manifestations such as watery diarrhea, stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, dizziness, fainting or weakness (signs of low blood pressure), Confusion or altered mental state and fast heart rate. An infected wound may present redness, pain, swelling, warmth, discoloration and discharge. People with certain conditions like liver diseases (cirrhosis), hemochromatosis, chronic kidney (renal) failure, diabetes and impaired immune systems are especially vulnerable. If delayed in treatment or left untreated, this infection may lead to life-threatening conditions like thrombocytopenia, internal bleeding (hemorrhage), sepsis, septic shock, necrotizing fasciitis (a serious skin infection that may require surgery) and organ damage," says Dr Sehrawat.


Vibrio vulnificus is a serious bacterium, and its infections require immediate medical attention.

"Treatment involves use of antibiotics such as doxycycline/3rd generation cephalosporins. For those who contract the infection through an open wound, proper wound care is crucial. This can range from cleaning and dressing the wound to more invasive procedures to remove dead or infected tissue. In severe cases, amputation might be required to stop the spread of the infection. Supportive care including intravenous fluids, medications to stabilize blood pressure, and other supportive therapies is important," says Dr Singhal.

"To detect this infection, the patient is advised to undergo tests like stool, blood cultures, stool (poop), sputum (mucus that you cough up from your lungs) and tissue or fluid from a wound. If caught early, Antibiotics are recommended to the patient to cure a Vibrio vulnificus infection. However the condition worsens, then other treatment options are considered including surgical debridement (where dead tissue is cleaned out of your wounds), draining fluid from blisters, amputation of affected limbs, medication that treats low blood pressure, like norepinephrine (noradrenaline), Intravenous fluids and Oxygen therapy to save the life of the patient," Dr Sehrawat.

Prevention tips

Dr Sehrawat suggests following tips to lower the risk of this fatal infection:

  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish, especially oysters. Cook them adequately before eating.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after preparing or handling raw shellfish. You can also wear gloves to provide an extra layer of protection.
  • Stay out of seawater and brackish water if you have an open wound or break in your skin (including from a recent surgery, piercing, or tattoo) to prevent vibrio infection.
  • Don't forget to wash wounds thoroughly if they’ve been in contact with seawater or raw shellfish or its juices.

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