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Tuesday, August 6, 2013
The Human Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill
Dr. Cova Arias, professor of Aquatic Microbiology at Auburn University, and two of her lab members had rather disturbing results published in the journal EcoHealth last December, 2011, on their discovery of high concentrations of vibrio vulnificus, also known as a type of flesh-eating bacteria, in tarballs. What is surprising is that Arias’ findings haven’t received more attention from public health officials, given the implications of the research. Findings involving V. vulnificus should be a concern for public health authorities in coastal areas, given that in addition to causing severe wound infections, this bacteria is the leading cause of seafood-borne fatalities nationwide.
While many media stories have focused on either bashing beach clean-up efforts in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, or hushing up the story completely, Arias’ group has clear data from tarballs and other forms of weathered oil on beaches in Mississippi and Alabama that could be valuable information for public health and future health research efforts. Especially in the aftermath of several reported cases of flesh-eating bacterial infections contracted from beaches and water in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, and warnings from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals about flesh-eating bacteria found in Gulf waters, Arias’ findings are relevant and concerning.