Warm Weather Leads To More Vibrio Bacterial Infections
July 23, 2012

Warm Weather Leads To More Vibrio Bacterial Infections

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Further proof today that our actions have long-lasting effects on our ecosystem, as a published paper has shown that man-made climate change is the main factor behind an emergence of bacteria in Northern Europe and other parts of the world.

Discovered by a group of international researchers, this bacteria is known to cause gastroenteritis and has coincided with the recent emergence of Vibrio infections in Northern Europe. The paper has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The bacteria, known as Vibrio, usually grows in tropical and warm marine climates and can cause cholera and gastroenteritis-like symptoms. It´s possible to become infected by this bacteria by eating raw or undercooked seafood exposed to seawater.

The team of researchers, hailing from Britain, Finland, Spain and the US, examined the temperatures of the Baltic Sea´s surface, as well as satellite data and statistics on Vibrio cases in the area.

According to their research, the number of Vibrio cases spiked with the temperatures of the Baltic Sea. When the temperature rose by one degree, the number of Vibrio cases grew by nearly 200%.

“The big apparent increases that we´ve seen in cases during heat wave years (“¦) tend to indicate that climate change is indeed driving infections,” Craig Baker-Austin with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and one of the paper´s authors told Reuters.

Previous research has shown that climate change as an effect of greenhouse gas emissions have made surface temperatures across the world´s oceans increase by 0.17 degrees celsius from 1980 to 2010.

The Baltic Sea saw the most extreme instances of warming in the same period, at a rate of 6.3 to 7.8 degrees celsius per 100 years.

“(It) represents, to our knowledge, the fastest warming marine ecosystem examined so far anywhere on Earth,” wrote the paper´s authors.

In a cause and effect style chain of events, several aspects have led up to this Vibrio-heavy environment. As the climate changes and the seas get warmer, rainfall becomes heavier and more frequent. As such, the salt content is reduced in coastal wetlands and estuaries. This creates a warm, low-saline environment in which many marine bacteria can thrive. Now, as the oceans continue to get warmer, these Vibrio-friendly conditions will begin to grow across Northern Europe. Therefore, according to the scientists, Vibrio outbreaks will begin to appear in new areas.

These kinds of outbreaks have even begun to show up in typically cold-water areas, such as Chile, Israel, Peru and the US Pacific Northwest.

“Very few studies have looked at the risk of these infections at high latitudes,” Baker-Austin said. “Certainly the chances of getting a vibrio infection are considered to be relatively low, and more research is focused on areas where these diseases are endemic or at least more common,” he continued.

These Vibrio outbreaks in colder areas have once been blamed on special conditions or sporadic events. Now, these researchers are discovering that gradual global warming could be to blame for these odd outbreaks.