From the Editor: Vibrio

by Joe Evans

It’s all fun and games until somebody gets a puncture wound.

The whole idea of fishing is to get out, catch a fish, have some laughs and a beer while trying to outsmart something with a brain the size of a grape. 

Such was the case on a recent spring afternoon alongside super-anglers Shawn Kimbro, Rich Jenkins and Tom Parham. We were performing well over a scattering of hungry stripers, and I lucked into a solid tug, which turned out to be a 25-pounder fresh from the upper-Bay spawning party. Everything was going as usual with a brisk lift from the water, easy barbless hook removal, and brief grip-and-grin photo. I was lining things up to revive and release the fish when my hand slipped off the tail and rode up to the dorsal fin. The needle-sharp top spine went through the meaty part of my index finger like a safety pin, in one side and out the other. Everyone froze for a moment.

Kimbro dug into the console for a squirt bottle of antiseptic wash. I poured what was left of my beer over the wound and was pleased to see that I was bleeding, a lot.

In days of yore, getting a little personal blood on the boat was an achievement, a right of passage, part of the game. Not so anymore. Now we have the specter of Vibrio vulnificus and the very remote, but all-too-real possibility of death.

Vibrios are ubiquitous, naturally occuring bacteria in salt and brackish waters. The vulnificus strain is the one to worry about. For some reason, possibly the reality of warming waters, infections are on the rise, and they are potentially awful. Infections in Maryland more than doubled from 2005 to 2013, when 57 people were diagnosed. In Virginia that year, there were 42 cases with 18 victims requiring hospitalization. Four of them died. 

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Centers for Disease Control research determined that Vibrio vulnificus is most likely present in summer months, just when we are eager to be fishing, crabbing, sailing, paddling and swimming. The concern is the access provided by an open wound—even a scratch or abrasion. An infection can cause the skin to break down rapidly and ulcerate. Florida Health Department data indicate that if the infection gets in the bloodstream, the survival rate is about fifty percent.

The Maryland Department of the Environment recommends that we cover wounds with waterproof bandages, wear shoes and gloves to avoid cuts and scrapes and immediately rinse a fresh wound with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer or an antiseptic wash as a back-up rinse or as follow-up care. If you notice any sign of infection, go straight to the emergency room. Seriously.

I called my neighborhood nurse practitioner and asked what she thought about the beer rinse. She felt that it was better than nothing, and probably a good idea in the situation.

As it turned out, I healed quickly without any sign of trouble, fished the next weekend, and I’m planning to go again tomorrow and the next day. I’ll bring along an ice-cold Devil’s Backbone Striped Bass Ale, just in case.