At least three people have died in Connecticut and New York after contracting a rare flesh-eating bacteria that can be found in warm, brackish water or raw shellfish, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Two people in Connecticut were infected with Vibrio vulnificus and died after swimming in two separate locations in Long Island Sound, according to Christopher Boyle, communications director for the state Department of Public Health.

A third person became infected in July after eating raw oysters at an out-of-state facility, according to the Department of Public Health. All three were between the ages of 60 and 80, according to the department.

The virus was also detected in a person who died on Long Island, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday. Authorities are still investigating the death in Suffolk County to determine whether the bacteria was found in New York waters or elsewhere, according to the news release.

Vibrio vulnificus comes from the same family as the bacteria that causes cholera.

A mild case of vibriosis bacterial infection can cause skin sores, blisters, abscesses and ulcers. It usually includes chills, fever, diarrhea, stomach pain and possibly vomiting. In more severe cases, people may develop sepsis. This is more common for those with underlying health conditions, particularly liver disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV or other diseases that suppress the immune system.

Anyone can contract vibriosis, but people with an open wound, such as a cut or scrape, recent piercing or new tattoo, should avoid exposing the skin to warm seawater in coastal environments or cover the area with a waterproof bandage, the news release says.

Doctors say it is important to seek treatment quickly if you develop a skin infection after possible exposure to the bacteria.

Vibrio vulnificus causes about 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials advise people to be cautious

Officials in Connecticut and New York are advising people to take precautions before consuming raw oysters or exposing themselves to salt or brackish water.

“People should consider the potential risk of consuming raw oysters and exposure to salt or brackish water and take appropriate precautions,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, in a July 28 press release. “Particularly during the hottest summer months, bacteria are more likely to overgrow and contaminate raw seafood.”

New York’s governor echoed those sentiments Wednesday.

“While rare, vibrio bacteria unfortunately made its way to this region and can be extraordinarily dangerous,” Hochul said. “As we investigate further, it is critical that all New Yorkers remain vigilant and take responsible precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including protecting open wounds from seawater and for those with compromised immune systems, avoiding raw or undercooked seafood that can transmit the bacteria.”

Connecticut routinely monitors oyster harvesting areas throughout the state for vibrio levels in the summer, and since 2014, the state added it to the requirements that those engaged in oyster harvesting must meet.

In part, oyster harvesters must shade oysters while on a boat and in high-risk areas, and harvested oysters must be placed in an ice suspension to lower the internal temperature below 10 degrees Celsius within three hours of harvest, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

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