Those who witnessed Michael Funk’s rapid death in Maryland described it as a “like a horror movie,” but it no movie. It was the flesh eating microbe, Vibrio vulnificus
You’ll never go in the water again.
As the oceans warm, incidents of humans dying horrible deaths from flesh-eating bacteria – Vibrio vulnificus – are increasing. While not usually fatal, the nasty microscopic beasties cause fever, chills, septic shock and the horrifying blistering skin lesions that give them their name.
When they are fatal, however, they doom the victim to a horrifying death in which the microbes literally eat away at the skin. In addition to Michael Funk, who died in September, another man checking into an emergency room in July with a lesion on his ankle. In 48 hours he was dead.
While fatal events from Vibrosis remain relative rare per se, a recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated that “rising ocean temperatures related to global warming is strongly associated with spread of vibrios.” Only about 200 people currently contract the flesh-eating strain each year. The number of amputations reported in vibrosis related cases is also increasing. This relatively new affliction has only been reportable since 2007, so many cases go unreported at this point.
In addition to the more visually horrifying Vibrosis, some strains of Vibrio cause cholera and other infections. According to University of Maryland microbiologist Rita Colwell, vibrosis and cholera are likely to bloom in once-unlikely places such as Alaska and Northern Europe. The Baltic Sea and other northern waters are warming at a faster rate than the global average.
Colwell’s team analyzed date from the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey, which has been sampling ocean water marine life since 1958.