Vibrio (including cholera)

Vibrio Basics

Vibrio bacteria naturally live in coastal waters, with higher concentrations between May and October when water temperatures are warmer. Specific types of Vibrio bacteria that cause infections include Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Vibrio vulnificus, and Vibrio cholerae.  Most people become infected by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, and some Vibrio species can cause a skin infection when an open wound is exposed to saltwater or brackish water.  Brackish water is a mixture of fresh and saltwater, often found where rivers meet the sea.

  • Vibrio parahaemolyticus is estimated to cause 45,000 illnesses in the United States each year.
  • Vibrio vulnificus infections can result in serious illness requiring intensive care or limb amputation. 
  • Vibrio cholerae cause a disease that has great potential for epidemic spread. 

Vibrio bacteria can cause disease typified by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramping or severe wound infections.  Symptoms typically occur within 24 hours of ingestion, and most people with mild vibriosis recover in about 3 days with no lasting effects.  People with compromised immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease, are more likely to get vibriosis.

Prevention

Ways to reduce risk of Vibrio illness include the following:

  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked oysters or other shellfish.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after handing raw shellfish.
  • Wash wounds and cuts with soap and water if they have been exposed to seawater or raw seafood.
  • Avoid contact with saltwater or brackish water if you have a wound (including cuts and scrapes) or cover your wound with a waterproof bandage if there’s a possibility it could come into contact with saltwater or brackish water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices.

For Healthcare Professionals

Symptoms of Vibrio illness include watery diarrhea, often accompanied by abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.  Vibrio bacteria can also cause wound or soft tissue infections.  Treatment is not necessary in mild cases, but patients should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through diarrhea. Antibiotics are sometimes used in severe or prolonged illness.

Reporting and Surveillance

Vibriosis has been nationally notifiable since 2007.  All laboratory positive results are reportable to the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

Non-Cholera Vibrio Infections by Confirmation Status, 2013-2018

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Cholera Infections by Confirmation Status, 2013-2018

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Confirmed: A species of the family Vibrionaceae was isolated from a clinical specimen.

Probable: A species of the family Vibrionaceae was detected from a clinical specimen using a culture-independent diagnostic test, such as a multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) gastrointestinal panel.

Other Resources

CDC Vibriosis Website: https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/index.html