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article imageNew Vibrio strain along Atlantic coast poses health threat

By Karen Graham     Feb 8, 2017 in Science
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found a new strain of bacteria thriving along the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. and Canada that can contaminate shellfish and sicken seafood lovers.
In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology this month, Cheryl Whistler and her colleagues report on a new strain of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which they have identified as ST631, that is rapidly emerging as the predominant Vibrio pathogen endemic to the Atlantic coast of North America.
Vibrio parahaemolyticus is the world's leading cause of seafood-transmitted bacterial illnesses. Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths annually in the United States, according to the CDC. People can get sick by consuming raw seafood contaminated with the pathogen or by going into saltwater with an open wound.
The statistics are concerning because of the increase in outbreaks, in part, due to climate change impacts on bacterial abundance and geographical distribution, despite control measures being in place. Interestingly, the vibrio strains of sequence type 3 (ST3) (serotype O3:K6) has dominated infections worldwide, while in the U.S. and Canada, the prevalent strain has turned out to be ST36 (O4:K12) after spreading from the Pacific to the Atlantic, according to the study.
ST631 strain is newly evolved
Now, with the identification of the new strain of vibrio, it may be easier to track the spread of this pathogen. The research team identified the first reported ST361 genome in a clinical case in Louisiana in 2007 from oysters harvested in Florida. In 2009, a second ST631 clinical isolate was reported in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
From 2010 to 2015, 35 clinical cases had isolates of ST631 in four U.S. states where the new strain is second only to ST36 strains. But with the short length of time associated with the illnesses and under-reporting of cases, the numbers could be much higher.
Genome sequencing revealed the ST631 strain shared no recent ancestry and differed significantly with the ST36 strains. This means the pathogen recently evolved owing to its population structure and rapid spread along the Atlantic coast. This research also tells us that we have a rising public health threat and this calls for increased surveillance to reduce the number of illnesses.
The other issue that needs to be taken into consideration is the part that warming oceans are playing in the pathogen's dynamics, as well as the anthropogenic influences in the spread of the ST631 strains.
This latest research goes hand-in-hand with a study reported on by Digital Journal in December 2016 conducted by the very same research group. In that study, published in the journal PLOS One, the scientists detailed their findings showing that illnesses from vibrio bacteria have increased significantly in New England in the past 10 to 20 years.
More about vibrio parahaemolyticus, New strain, ST631, Atlantic coast, shellfish contamination
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