Vibrio vulnificus infection

Vibrio vulnificus is bacteria that’s found in warm seawater or brackish water (a mixture of fresh and seawater). Cases of Vibrio vulnificus infection in New Zealand are extremely rare.


Infection is usually caused when an open wound is exposed to the bacteria.

People with underlying medical conditions such as a compromised immune system, liver disease, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes mellitus are much more likely to get a Vibrio vulnificus infection. An infection in immunocompromised people can lead to a blood infection (septicaemia).


If you have an open wound that becomes infected with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria symptoms may include:

  • serious illness with a rapid decline in health
  • skin infection with signs of redness and swelling.

The infection may result in necrotising fasciitis (commonly known as flesh-eating disease). It may start with intense pain with redness and swelling at the site of the wound.

It can spread to affect much of the body, and can lead to tissue destruction.  People infected with flesh-eating disease can get seriously ill and may need intensive care and/or limb amputation. It can be fatal.


When to see your doctor

See your doctor promptly if you develop symptoms and signs of infection such as increasing redness, swelling and pain on the skin, particularly if you have a medical conditions that can make you susceptible to Vibrio vulnificus infection.

Tell your doctor if you have been in contact with seawater or brackish water.


You can reduce your risk of infection.

  • Avoid wounds coming into contact with warm seawater or brackish water.
  • Cover wounds with a waterproof bandage.
  • Cleanse wounds thoroughly with soap and water if exposed to brackish water or seawater.
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