More People Are Getting Sick from Ocean Bacteria And Climate Change May Be to Blame, Scientists Say

For east coasters and our Euro brethren climate change could be the reason the ocean is making you sick.

The Inertia

Seriously, climate change? As if we needed another reason to hate you, add escalating rates of certain infectious bacteria to the list.

In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, warmer ocean temperatures associated with global warming have resulted in an escalation in certain marine bacteria called Vibrios. According to the study, “Such increases are associated with an unprecedented occurrence of environmentally acquired Vibrio infections in the human population of Northern Europe and the Atlantic coast of the United States in recent years.” In other words, climate change is directly to blame for increasing levels of Vibrio infections in Northern Europe and the east coast of the United States.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the most commonly occurring Vibrios in the United States cause an estimated 80,000 illnesses which are fatal in about 100 cases each year. Humans either become infected by exposing an open wound to salt or brackish water, or by consuming raw or undercooked seafood. Typical Vibrio infections are not life threatening – diarrhea, abdominal pain, maybe nausea, fever, and chills, says the CDC. But the fact that climate change can be linked to increasing levels of infection, of any sort, in humans is groundbreaking.

“We were able to demonstrate that there was an increase in the numbers of vibrios, probably a two or threefold increase, correlated with the increase in climate temperature, and then correlated with outbreaks of vibrio infections that have been recorded in the medical records,” Rita Colwell, co-author of the study and microbiologist at the University of Maryland, told the Washington Post.

Of the numerous Vibrio species that are less common stateside, perhaps one of the most worrisome is Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of Cholera. The World Health Organization estimates Cholera impacts 1.4 to 4.3 million people annually, resulting in 142,000 deaths worldwide. Also of concern is Vibrio vulnificus which, according to the American Society for Microbiology, is “highly lethal”.

People might be surprised to know that increasing Vibrio populations is just one example of how climate change is impacting our oceans, that in turn impacts humans, says Colwell. “It’s a disruption of the natural pattern.”