The massive blob of seaweed floating through the Atlantic Ocean and heading for Florida’s coast is now thought to contain more than just ocean vegetation and microplastic pollution.
Researchers from Florida Atlantic University published a study in the journal Water Research with findings that the blob and its plastic debris could be filled with species of Vibrio bacteria, sometimes called flesh-eating bacteria, to create a “perfect pathogen storm.”
The 5,000-mile-wide collection of sargassum seaweed in recent months bloomed to become the “Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt.” It’s been called smelly, goopy, rotting and foul. Worse, researchers found that some species of Vibrio bacteria — specifically Vibrio vulnificus — clings to pieces of plastic debris entangled in the blob.
The bacteria can lead to infections and necrotizing fasciitis, which has led to it being referred to as “flesh-eating.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Vibrio bacteria can infect someone through eating contaminated seafood or through open wounds that contact seawater.
Open wounds can also include unhealed piercings, tattoos or those from recent surgery. Wounds can then become necrotic, and the flesh eventually die and rot.
The bacteria is especially common in brackish water, the CDC says, which is a mixture of fresh and salt water typically found along Florida’s coast and beaches.
The CDC says these infections will usually be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of Vibrio bacteria infection can include: vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramping, fever, dangerously low blood pressure, and skin lesions, discoloration and discharge.
The CDC recommends covering wounds in waterproof bandages when swimming in saltwater or in brackish water, and says swimmers should also wash any wounds with soap and water after coming in contact with brackish water.
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