A new research study at the University of Delaware seeks to determine why Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a microorganism that lives in seawater and is related to the bacterium that causes cholera, is expanding its range and virulence.
V. parahaemolyticus is a leading cause of seafood-borne illness worldwide, most frequently associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked seafood, particularly oysters and other mollusks, and crabs. Victims typically suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, fever and chills for a few days, although the infection can be fatal in those with weakened immune systems.
"This organism has been around for a long time," says Michelle Parent, assistant professor of medical technology at the University of Delaware and a co-investigator on the study. "However, only recently, in the past decade, has a new, more virulent isolate become more prevalent around the globe."
In North America, Vibrio parahaemolyticus is considered an "emerging pathogen." An estimated 4,500 cases of infection occur each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. However, the agency suggests the number likely is much higher because labs rarely use the medium necessary to identify the organism, and cases go unreported.
"Vibrio parahaemolyticus usually causes a gastrointestinal infection that lasts two to three days, although individuals with compromised immune systems who work around seawater and get infected from a cut or open wound can die within a day," Parent says.
"This organism grows super-fast," Parent explains. "It has a replication time of six to nine minutes, which is very quick compared to other microbes."
The ultimate aim of the University of Delaware study, which is funded by a $400,000 food biosafety grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is to home in on this emerging pathogen's virulence genes and determine how the organism overcomes its
|Contact: Tracey Bryant|
University of Delaware