Vibrio vulnificus: new insights into a deadly opportunistic pathogen

Craig Baker-Austin, James D. Oliver

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

161 Citations (Scopus)


Vibrio vulnificus is a Gram-negative aquatic bacterium first isolated by the United States (US) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1964. This bacterium is part of the normal microbiota of estuarine waters and occurs in high numbers in molluscan shellfish around the world, particularly in warmer months. Infections in humans are derived from consumption of seafood produce and from water exposure. Vibrio vulnificus is a striking and enigmatic human pathogen, yet many aspects related to its biology, genomics, virulence capabilities and epidemiology remain elusive and poorly understood. This pathogen is responsible for over 95% of seafood-related deaths in the United States, and carries the highest fatality rate of any food-borne pathogen. Indeed, infections associated with this pathogen that progress to primary septicaemia have a similar case fatality rate to category BSL 3 and 4 pathogens, such as anthrax, bubonic plague, Ebola and Marburg fever. Interestingly, V. vulnificus infections disproportionately affect males (∼85% of cases) and older patients (> 40 years), especially those with underlying conditions such as liver diseases, diabetes and immune disorders. New insights from molecular studies and comparative genomic approaches have offered tantalising insights into this pathogen. A recent increase and geographical spread in reported infections, in particular wound cases, underlines the growing international importance of V. vulnificus, particularly in the context of coastal warming. We outline and explore here a range of current data gaps regarding this important pathogen, and provide some current thoughts on approaches to elucidate key aspects associated with this bacterium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-430
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number2
Early online date13 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018

Cite this