The amount of coastal water that can harbor harmful Vibrio bacteria has spiked 56%. One species is flesh-eating.

The habitat for Vibrio bacteria, which thrives in warm, brackish waters, is being impacted by rising sea temperatures.
Since the 1980s, 56% of coasts where Vibrio bacteria can thrive have increased.

This is just one way that climate change is threatening human health.

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A Wednesday report found that the amount of harmful bacteria living in coastal waters has increased by 56% over the last few decades.

Vibrio is a bacteria from the Vibrio family. It lives in coastal water, both salty and brackish, in Canada and the US. Vibriosis is a form of infection that can be contracted from eating undercooked seafood, or from exposing wounds to bacteria-infested water. Vibrio is mild and can resolve in three days. However, severe cases can cause gastroenteritis as well as life-threatening cholera and dangerous wound infections.

Vibrio vulnificus is one species of Vibrio bacteria. This bacteria can cause severe tissue destruction. These infections are rare and often require intensive care or an amputation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they can prove fatal and kill one in five people infected.

Vibrio is now a more serious threat because sea surface temperatures have risen and seawater has become saltier. This is one of the alarming conclusions from The Lancet's sixth Annual Report on Climate Change and Health. Researchers from the United Nations and academia tracked 44 indicators of climate-related health effects.

They concluded that climate change is affecting global health and increasing social inequality.

Anthony Costello, the executive director of the report said that every country continues to face a climate crisis as the COVID-19 crises continues. He also stated, "The Lancet Countdown report has more than 40 indicators and far too few of them are flashing green."

One of these red indicators is the connection between rising sea temperatures, waterborne diseases such as vibriosis and rising sea temperatures. The report states that Vibrio bacteria has increased in number at certain northern latitudes in the north hemisphere from 7% in 1980s to 10.9% by 2020.

Vibrio infections are most common in the summer.

An estimated 80,000 Vibrio-infected people die each year in the US. According to the CDC, Vibrio bacteria thrives when it is exposed to warm water. 80% of these infections are contracted between May-October.

According to the Associated Press, the bacteria is not just a threat to humans.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection stated that "It is possible that there could be wider temperature swings in the fall and spring, which could lead to worsening the impact of these deaths events."

Vibrio vibrio vulnificus bacteria can cause serious infections that can destroy tissue. BSIP/Getty Images

Although 100 deaths per year are a low number from a public health perspective, rising sea temperatures could make Vibrio, and most likely the infections and deaths it causes, more widespread.

The Lancet report showed that Vibrio bacteria's habitable coastline increased from 1.2% up to 5.1% in Atlantic Northeast, and from 1.2% up to 5.1% Pacific Northwest, between the 1980s to 2020. The area that is suitable for bacteria growth in the Baltics increased by 47% to 82% during the same time.

The Lancet report also mentions other worrying indicators, such as an increase in mosquito-borne diseases and a link between extreme heat and poor mental health.

Costello stated that he believes there will be an opportunity for countries to address both climate change and COVID issues simultaneously when they meet in Scotland next month as part of the COP26 climate negotiations.

We have the option to choose. He said that COVID-19 recovery can be a green one that improves human health and reduces inequities or it can be a more business-as usual recovery that puts everyone at risk.