Rare bacteria sends patient to hospital, cause of death under investigation


State health officials are investigating a case that may be linked to a rare bacteria.

We learned one person died, but the Department of Health says the cause of death hasn’t been confirmed yet.

Vibrio is a bacteria that can cause severe illness and even death.

Officials have confirmed the victim was hospitalized because of vibrio, and are investigating the source.

We looked deeper into what vibrio is and how you can prevent from getting sick.

According to health officials, most people with mild cases of vibriosis recover after about three days, but a serious infection can lead to intensive care, amputation, and death.

Most cases of vibriosis occur between May and October when water temperatures are warmer.

The state broke down the number of cases in Hawaii over the past five years:

  • 2016: 24
  • 2015: 42
  • 2014: 37
  • 2013: 33
  • 2012: 35

You can get vibriosis by eating raw, undercooked seafood from contaminated coastal waters or exposing an open wound to warm seawater.

“Two-thirds of those cases tend to be caused by wound infections or related to wound infections,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park.

Symptoms usually start a day to two days after exposure to the bacteria, and include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

A wound infected by vibrio may appear red, swollen, and painful.

“If you have a liver disease or you have other kinds of underlying illness that makes your immune system not quite so robust, even if just mildly so, you’re at risk for more severe infection,” Park said. “The current understanding is that it carries about a 50-percent mortality risk for those kinds of persons. For healthy persons, we generally recover.”

To protect you and your family from vibrio, health officials recommend that you cook seafood at a high temperature for at least 15 minutes, refrigerate raw seafood as soon as possible, and avoid warm seawater if you have a cut.

Any case of vibriosis needs to be reported to the state so that officials can follow up and, if need be, warn the public.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year.

The latest multi-state outbreak was in 2013 that was linked to several Atlantic Coast harvest areas. It did not include Hawaii.

Reduce your risk of vibriosis by following these tips:

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked oysters or other shellfish. Cook them before eating.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handing raw shellfish.
  • Avoid contaminating cooked shellfish with raw shellfish and its juices.
  • Stay out of brackish or salt 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 brackish or salt water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices.
  • Wash wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and water if they have been exposed to seawater or raw seafood or its juices.
  • If you develop a skin infection, tell your medical provider if your skin has come into contact with brackish or salt water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices.
  • Opening oyster with gloves on

More information from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/index.html

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