CT officials: Bacteria in LI Sound water poses health risks

Residents are being warned about the potential dangers of exposure to salt or brackish water in Long Island Sound due to an “unusually high number of infections” caused by bacteria in the water, the state Department of Public Health announced Saturday.

Since July, five cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections have been reported to DPH — one infection in July, four in August.

“The identification of these five cases over two months is very concerning,” said Dr. Matthew Cartter, state epidemiologist for DPH.

“This suggests the Vibrio bacteria may be present in salt or brackish water in or near Long Island Sound, and people should take precautions.”

The patients are from Fairfield (one), Middlesex (one), and New Haven (three) counties and are between 49 and 85 years of age (median 73); four are male, one is female.

“Two patients had septicemia (infection of the bloodstream) and three had serious wound infections. All five cases patients were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported,” the state health department said Saturday.

All five cases reported exposure to salt or brackish water during activities such as swimming, crabbing, and boating.

All five patients had pre-existing wounds or sustained new wounds during these activities which led to the Vibrio infections.

Vibrio vulnificus infection is an extremely rare illness. In the past 10 years, between 2010 and 2019, only seven cases were reported in Connecticut.

The bacteria can cause wound infections when open wounds are exposed to warm salt or brackish water, a mix of salt and fresh water.

The bacteria, once inside the body, can infect the bloodstream causing septicemia. People with a V. vulnificus infection can get seriously ill and need intensive care or limb amputation.

About one in five people with this type of Vibrio infection die, sometimes within a day or two of becoming ill. People at greatest risk for illness from V. vulnificus are those with weakened immune systems and the elderly.

You can reduce your chance of getting a Vibrio wound infection by following these tips:

 If you have a wound (including from a recent surgery, piercing, or tattoo), stay out of saltwater or brackish water, if possible. This includes wading at the beach.

 Cover your wound with a waterproof bandage if it could come into contact with saltwater, brackish water, or raw or undercooked seafood and its juices. This contact can happen during everyday activities, such as swimming, fishing, or walking on the beach.

 Wash wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and water after they have contact with saltwater, brackish water, raw seafood, or its juices.

For more information on V. vulnificus infections, visit https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/wounds.html