Study: Tar balls found in Gulf teeming with 'flesh-eating' bacteria
The number of people contracting the warm-water bacteria that can cause illnesses ranging from tummy upsets to potentially fatal skin lesions has increased in recent years, according to federal data.
Records kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of cases of Vibriosis nearly doubled between 2008 and 2012 - rising from 588 to 1,111.
Vibriosis includes "Vibrio vulnificus," the bacteria commonly dubbed "flesh-eating." It's rare but tends to be underreported, the CDC says on its website.
The CDC data on vibriosis includes all vibrio species except cholera, so it's unclear how much of the increase in the past five years is due to infection by the flesh-eating bacteria that can cause death.
One researcher who studies Vibrio vulnificus found it highly concentrated in tar balls that appeared along the Gulf Coast after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Covadonga Arias, a professor of microbial genomics at Auburn University in Alabama, found that Vibrio vulnificus was 10 times higher in tar balls than in sand and up to 10 times higher than in seawater.